BANGKOK (Reuters) — Thai government
supporters welcomed on Thursday the prospect of a July election and said
the Election Commission had to prevent disruption by anti-government
protesters who insist that reforms are brought in before any vote.
The government and Election Commission agreed on Wednesday to hold
a general election on July 20 but there are doubts an orderly vote
can be held or can end a long-running political crisis and restore
"We are all for a July election but anything is possible," said
Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the pro-government United Front
for Democracy Against Dictatorship. "Protesters could block the
polls and the result could be nullified again."
A February 2 election was held after Prime Minister Yingluck
Shinawatra dissolved parliament in December in response to street
protests aimed at ousting her.
But the main opposition party boycotted the polls and protesters
prevented voting in 28 constituencies. A court nullified the
election in March citing a law that requires voting be held on the
same day across the country.
"The commission has said it will prevent a repeat of disruptions to
voting and it must stick to that promise," Thanawut said.
Thailand has been gripped by political upheaval since 2006 when a
military coup removed Yingluck's brother, then-premier Thaksin
Thaksin has huge support from the poor rural and urban voters but
faces opposition from the royalist establishment and Bangkok middle
class who see the populist former telecoms tycoon as a threat to
The overriding aim of the anti-government protesters is to eliminate
once and for all the influence of Thaksin, who they say is the power
behind his sister's government even though he lives in exile to
avoid a jail sentence handed down in 2008 for abuse of power.
Parties led by or allied to Thaksin have won every election since
2001 and the protesters want reform unelected "people's council" to
oversee electoral system to end his dominance.
Yingluck has dismissed calls to step down but could be removed from
office through legal cases against her set to conclude this month.
Adding to doubts about a July vote, Election Commission
secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said the government had agreed
to change the date if "unexpected circumstances" arise.
Christian Lewis, a Southeast Asia specialist at political risk
consultants Eurasia Group, said a July 20 vote was unlikely.
"Yingluck faces such a strong challenge in the courts. If she and
her cabinet are removed, the polls aren't going to happen on this
schedule," Lewis told Reuters.
"By invalidating the polls last month, the courts provided
Yingluck's opponents with a blueprint to obstruct future elections.
Simply put, it set a dangerous precedent."
The protesters have at various stages blocked thoroughfares in
Bangkok, forced ministries to close and clashed with police, scaring
off tourists, denting business confidence and damaging Southeast
Asia's second-biggest economy.
The central bank has warned that the economy could contract in the
first quarter compared with the previous three months and some
economists fear the country could slip into recession unless the
deadlock is broken and a new government installed.
Opposition leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has
declined to say if his Democrat Party would take part in a July
vote, and is instead pushing a mediation effort.
He said on Thursday he would announce a plan to solve the crisis,
what he calls an exit strategy for Thailand, in coming days. He said
if all sides accepted his plan, he would not run in the election but
would remain impartial.
"I will not take any political position to show that I will simply
be a citizen that supports reforms," Abhisit said in a statement
posted on Facebook.
It is not clear if members of his Democrat Party will run.
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a deputy prime
minister under Abhisit, has called for a "final battle" starting
from May 14 to oust Yingluck.
"This is it, my friends. The ultimate uprising for the good of our
motherland and future generations," Suthep told his supporters in a
Bangkok park on Wednesday.
"Red shirt" supporters of Thaksin and Yingluck have vowed to defend
the caretaker premier if she is removed and are planning a big rally
on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 5 ahead of the legal decisions.
The anti-government protesters are planning a rally in the city that
same day raising fears of a clash.