Thailand's government annoucned today that elections will be held as planned on February 2, despite an opposition boycott and a request by the election commission to delay the vote.
The announcement followed a meeting between cabinet members and caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who said she has no authority to postpone the polls.
"I believe that the rights of the people are important. They will exercise their rights to show how they want the country's democracy to proceed," said Yingluck.
Main opposition leaders refused to attend the Wednesday meeting, which came on the third day of anti-government protests in Bangkok that have deepened the country's political crisis.
As expected, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban dismissed the election announcement, saying a vote should not be held until reforms are made and Yingluck resigns.
"I don't know who was at the meeting today, but the people don't agree to hold an election under the same rules and the same laws, because such an election will allow vote-buying, vote-rigging and so it will make the election impure and unfair," said Suthep.
The situation may become more serious as night falls, as one of the more hardline factions of the protest movement has threatened to take over the offices of Aeronautical Radio of Thailand, which coordinates aircraft control services for domestic and international flights in Thai airspace, and the Stock Exchange of Thailand, unless Yingluck steps down by 8 pm local time. In 2008, anti-Thaksin protesters occupied both of Bangkok’s airports, damaging the country’s critical tourism industry.
Meanwhile, scattered reports of small-scale violence overnight threatened to raise the stakes in the political standoff.
Security officials reported that a man and woman suffered minor injuries in an early morning shooting near an upscale shopping district where the protesters have set up camp.
Authorities are also investigating a possible overnight attack on the home of prominent opposition leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Police said a small explosive device, possibly a large firework, was thrown onto the property of Abhisit, causing minor damage to the roof. He was not home at the time and no one was injured.
The unrest threatened to change the mood of the festival-like protests, which have been well-attended but have largely failed at their goal of shutting down the capital and government business.
Suthep said Wednesday he will not put a timeframe on the demonstrations, vowing they will last as long as necessary in order to force Yingluck from power.
Yingluck has repeatedly said she has a constitutional duty to stay on as prime minister, insisting only cooperation and dialogue can resolve the country's months-long political deadlock.
She has already dissolved parliament, called for the early elections on February 2, and proposed the formation of a national reform council as a way to resolve the crisis.
Suthep has called for a non-elected "people's council" to replace the current government and implement reforms to end corruption and money politics before any new vote takes place.
Analysts think the prime minister's ruling Pheu Thai party is likely to win next month's snap election, which the main opposition Democrat party plans to boycott.
The opposition views Yingluck as a puppet of her brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, convicted of corruption and now lives in self-imposed exile.