Thailand's prime minister says the government may hold a general election later this year. The vote would be seen as a test of the country’s volatile democratic tradition.
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the governing Democrat Party, says he is aiming to hold elections near mid-year, six months ahead of the parliament’s four year term.
The call for an election follows recent constitutional changes by parliament allowing single parliamentary constituency seats, rather than proportional representation. The move is expected to favor the Democrat Party.
Overall, voters will elect 375 members for seats in parliament, and a further 125 members nominated by political parties to make up a 500-member House of Representatives.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn says parliament needs to pass legislation reflecting the constitutional changes before Abhisit dissolves parliament.
"The Prime Minister laid down a plan to submit a request to His Majesty the King to dissolve the House in May - beginning of May," he said. "But in the period before May the Election Commission will work out the details of getting rules, regulations and the law - three major laws submitted to the Parliament. After that, the Election Commission will together look into the possible dates between 45 and 60 days of the election date."
At the last election in 2007, parties aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra won a majority of seats. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup. He later faced corruption charges and was sentenced to two years in prison. He fled the country before the verdict was handed down.
Pro-royalist protests, as well as court rulings against successive pro-Thaksin governments, led to Abhisit’s appointment as prime minister in December 2008.
Anti-government protests against Abhisit’s administration followed. Protesters accuse the government of lacking legitimacy, due to being backed by the military and bureaucracy. The government has denied this charge.
Anti-government protests in 2009 and 2010 were led by the pro-Thaksin United Democratic Front for Democracy known as the ‘red shirts’.
Weekend rallies marked the anniversary of last year’s two months of protests that left more than 90 deaths and hundreds injured.
A red-shirt leader released on bail from nine months in prison on terrorism charges,Weng Tojirakarn, says he welcomes an election. But Weng says the Democrat Party known as ‘Phak Prachathipat’, should also accept the result if the Puea Thai Party wins.
"We welcome the general election because it is a very important step in the general democracy and we will respect the result of the political decision of the people, whatever the political party win," he said. "The Phak Prachathipat and the power outside the constitution must also respect, the bureaucrat system must respect, the political decision of the people if in case Puea Thai win."
But analysts fear the election will be volatile, and possibly violent, in one of the hardest fought campaigns Thailand has witnessed in recent years. Initial reports of public opinion have put the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party ahead in a closely fought election.