Friday, December 27, 2013

Thailand: Election Commission Calls for February 2 Elections to be Delayed Amid Violence

According to http://www.stuff.co.nz, Thailand's election commission has called for upcoming polls to be delayed as street battles between security forces and protesters seeking to disrupt the ballot killed one police officer and injured nearly 100 people, dealing fresh blows to the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, 46.

Yingluck wants the February 2 elections to take place as scheduled, believing she would win formidably and renew her mandate. The street violence adds to pressure on her to take a tougher line against the protesters, risking more chaos and possible intervention by the army. 

The hours-long unrest took place outside a Bangkok sports stadium where election candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. Protesters threw rocks as they tried to break into the building to halt the process, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Protesters fired live ammunition, one of which resulted in the death of the police officer. 

Four election commissioners left the stadium by helicopter to escape the violence, some of the sharpest since a long-running dispute between Thailand's bitterly divided political factions flared anew two months ago, pitching the Southeast Asian country into fresh turmoil. 
 
COMMENT: The protest movement regards the Yingluck administration as corrupt, illegitimate and a proxy for her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, 64, who was toppled by a 2006 military coup. It is demanding that the elections be delayed until Yingluck leaves office and reforms are implemented.  

The election commission said in a statement that it was urging the government to consider postponing the elections, citing the security situation. Commission head Somchai Srisutthiyakorn denied the body was "involving itself in politics" by urging a delay in the polls. "We have good intentions and want to see peace in this country," he told reporters. 

Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said the government was unable to change the date of the polls. "February 2, 2014, was set as the election date in the royal decree dissolving Parliament, and there is nothing within the constitution or the law that gives the government the authority to change this date," Pongthep said. He reiterated that the government was willing to discuss reforms with the protesters, but insisted that the elections must take place as scheduled. 

According to the constitution, elections must be held 45 to 60 days from the date that Parliament is dissolved.  

At least 96 people were injured from both sides as protesters armed with sling shots and wearing gas masks fought with police. An officer was struck by a bullet fired by the protesters, police said at a news conference. He died after being airlifted to a hospital.

If a protester did fire the lethal round that killed the police officer, this should be viewed as a turning point in the nearly three months of protests in Bangkok, as the Yingluck government has taken exceptional steps to avoid confrontations.

Yet, we must all remember that Yingluck's government initially proposed the amnesty bill that would have given Thaksin a "free pass" from jail time on corruption charges. 

Hence, Yingluck used the PM's office in violation of her oath of office simply to help her brother avoid a prison sentence. Consequently, Yingluck deserves what she has created.

I continue to discourage TOURISTS from traveling to the capital, although business travelers should attempt travel to Bangkok, providing their activities will be in areas untouched by protesters, which are reaching numbers well over 100,000.

Considering that a protester allegedly fired a round that killed a police officer, even essential travel to the capital should be brief in duration, as it is uncertain as to when greater violence will occur.

At the moment, travel to northern or southern destinations exclusive of Bangkok are considered safe, but please check this site for updates.