The demonstrators led by Suthep Thaugsuban disrupted a general
election for the lower house in February, which was annulled by the
Constitutional Court on Friday, but they have no problem with
Sunday's vote for the upper house.
"We will not block Sunday's Senate election, because we need to
reform the executive and legislative branches and the Senate is key
to our reform plans," Wittaya Kaewparadai, a protest leader, told
Thailand has been in crisis since former premier Thaksin Shinawatra,
Yingluck's brother, was ousted in a 2006 coup. The conflict broadly
pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment
against the mostly poorer, rural supporters of the Shinawatras.
The turmoil entered a fresh phase in November, when anti-government
protesters first took to the streets, with 23 people killed during
the political violence over the following months.
Sunday's vote is to elect 77 senators for the 150-seat Senate. The
rest are appointed, and a government attempt to make it a fully
elected body was one of the sparks that set off the latest unrest in
The non-elected Senators are picked by judges and senior officials
from agencies such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission
(NACC), members of an establishment whom government supporters see
as viscerally anti-Thaksin.
The protesters appear confident that Sunday's vote will deliver a
Senate majority likely to impeach Yingluck after an investigation
under way by the NACC.
Yingluck has until the end of the month to answer a charge of
dereliction of duty over a ruinous rice-buying scheme that has run
up huge losses and left hundreds of thousands of farmers unpaid. The
prime minister is unlikey to attend the NACC hearing, and Yingluck's
lawyers will probably present her defence.
"The NACC can't put a timeframe on how long it will take to decide
whether or not to charge the premier. We have to wait until March 31
to hear how she defends herself," Vicha Mahakun, a commissioner and
the agency's spokesman, told Reuters.
"We can't rush these decisions," he added.
The NACC is one of seven nominally independent agencies that belong
to the executive branch but function outside the cabinet's
authority. It has the power to investigate and impeach senior civil
[to top of second column]
SETBACK FOR YINGLUCK
The impeachment process for Yingluck could take many weeks. Any
decision to remove her would require the votes of three-fifths of
In a setback for the prime minister, Senate Speaker Nikom
Wairatpanich, whom protesters accuse of siding with the government,
was suspended from his post last week pending a Senate decision over
whether to impeach him for cutting short a debate on amendments to
His deputy, Surachai Liengboonlertchai, is looked upon more
favourably by the anti-government side.
His role could be crucial if there is a power vacuum and he is asked
to nominate an interim prime minister — a scenario that looks
Yingluck has headed a caretaker government since dissolving
parliament and calling a snap election in December. Now the February
2 election has been annulled, it could be many months before a new
vote is held and a full government installed.
The protests in Bangkok appeared to be fading this month as the
focus switched to the courts but, waving flags and tooting whistles,
Suthep's supporters appear to have been re-energized by the
Constitutional Court decision on Friday.
They plan a big rally in Bangkok on Saturday to press for political
and electoral reforms before a new general election.
"We don't see any other way to improve Thailand except to set in
motion reforms. We urgently need change before a new vote," Suthep
told reporters on Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat;
editing by Alan Raybould and Simon Cameron-Moore)
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