Thailand's Feb 2 polls to go ahead, says election commission

 

THAILAND'S Feb 2 general election will go ahead, its Election Commission said on Friday, even after anti-government protesters blocked candidates from registering in the south of the country.

The decision to go ahead with the election - while not extending the Jan 1 registration deadline - could put the country in a legislative limbo because there are not enough constituencies being contested to fill 95 per cent of the 500 seats in Thailand's House of Representatives required to open a new session.

According to the Commission, there are no candidates for 28 out of the 375 constituency seats available. The remaining 125 seats will be filled by party-list candidates based on the number of votes garnered by the contesting parties.

Anti-government protesters are seeking to unseat caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra and install a "people's council" that will implement political reforms before elections are carried out. They argue that a Feb 2 election will only perpetuate the power of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a coup in 2006 and is still thought to wield inordinate power from Dubai, where he lives in self-exile.

Thaksin, who cut through traditional patronage politics with schemes like the 30-baht universal healthcare programme during his premiership from 2001 to 2006, remains popular among the rural masses in the north and north-east of the country. As a result, Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai party is widely expected to be returned to power if the snap polls go ahead.

Thaksin's opponents argue that any concession to his extensive political network will perpetuate corruption and cronyism.

The pro-establishment opposition Democrat Party, which draws most of its support from Bangkok and the south, is boycotting the polls.

tanhy@sph.com.sg