Thai election body urges 'indefinite' delay of early vote
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Thailand's election commission urged the government on Thursday to postpone an early vote set for February 2 indefinitely after a policeman was killed and dozens of people were injured in clashes between security forces and opposition protesters.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to stop demonstrators from forcing their way into a Bangkok sports stadium, where representatives of some 30 political parties gathered Wednesday to register for early elections set for February 2.
"We cannot organise free and fair elections under the constitution in the current circumstances," said election commission member Prawit Rattanapien.
A police officer was shot and killed and at least 60 people were injured in the unrest, according to the Police General Hospital in Bangkok.
Several election commissioners were airlifted from the stadium by helicopter while other officials and party representatives as well as journalists remained trapped inside.
More than a month of mostly peaceful demonstrations have so far left six people dead and hundreds more wounded.
In the hours following Wednesday’s confrontation, the election commission called a news conference to say that the polls should be delayed indefinitely due to continuing unrest.
But the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the vote would take place as planned despite the latest violence.
"The February 2 election will go ahead," deputy premier Pongthep Thepkanchana said in a televised address. "There is no law allowing the government to delay the election."
The prime minister continues to face mass street protests by those seeking to bring an end to her reign and her family's political influence.
The opposition has called for an unelected "people's council" to take power and oversee constitutional changes to reform the electoral process before a fresh vote is held.
Accusations of vote-buying
Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as premier in a 2006 military coup and now lives in Dubai to avoid serving a two-year sentence on corruption charges. Thailand's Supreme Court convicted him in absentia in 2008 after finding that he violated conflict of interest rules by helping his wife buy land at a reduced price from a government agency.
Thaksin's supporters, located mainly in the more rural north and northeast of the country, see him as a wealthy patron who is committed to raising living standards with populist policies that have included offering affordable health care and inexpensive personal loans.
But his critics, many hailing from Thailand’s middle class and its elites, say he is a corrupt crony capitalist who abused power by enriching his wealthy friends and relatives while bleeding Thailand dry.
Demonstrators believe the telecommunications billionaire remains the real power behind his sister's government and that he continues to dominate Thailand's power structure through fraud.
Pro-Thaksin parties have won every election since 2001, most recently with his sister’s landslide victory two years ago.
Protesters accuse the Shinawatra family of buying votes and transporting their “red shirt” supporters to voting stations by the truckload.
Thaksin's people offer 500 baht (about €11) to each voter, one protester told FRANCE 24. They pick them up in trucks, give them 200 baht and take them to the polling station. After they have voted they receive the other 300 baht, she said.
The opposition says that as long as this practice continues to be widespread, a new round of elections cannot be the solution to the country’s political crisis.
'Reform before election'
Demonstrators, some of whom carry placards reading “Reform before election”, have vowed to keep up their campaign to disrupt the February polls.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a longtime politician and former deputy premier, has threatened to "shut down the country" to prevent people from voting.
The main opposition Democrat Party has already vowed to boycott the vote.
In a latest bid to placate the demonstrators, Yingluck on Wednesday proposed the creation of a "national reform council" made up of hundreds of representatives to recommend constitutional amendments, economic and legal reforms, as well as new anti-corruption measures.
But protesters quickly rejected the idea, urging her once again to step down.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)