News / Asia

Thailand Sets July 20 Election Date

Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C) collects donations from his supporters during a rally at the TOT Public Company building in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C) collects donations from his supporters during a rally at the TOT Public Company building in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.
— Thailand says new elections will be held on July 20 to try to end months of political deadlock. But the main opposition party says it has not decided whether it will participate.
 
The main opposition Democrat Party says another election is not feasible under present conditions.
 
Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut tells VOA the government needs to agree to implement reforms for the Democrats to participate in polling.   
 
“I don’t see that we can have the free and fair election. We’re afraid that the upcoming election, if it could ever happen on July 20, is going to be the same as what happened February 2,” he said.
 
The Democrats boycotted that election. And anti-government protesters blockaded enough polling stations to invalidate the vote.
 
Impact on economy, tourism


Since then, there has been little progress in bridging the divide between the government and its opponents, leading to worries the prolonged standoff is scaring off tourists and foreign investors and damaging the economy.
 
Chavanond says the Democrats want to see an election held eventually for the sake of the nation, but not before key reforms are in place.
 
“We accept the reality of the Thai society now that we are facing some problems, we are having conflicts and that we have to solve this first before we’re heading for elections,” he said.

 
FILE - Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, March 2, 2012.FILE - Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, March 2, 2012.
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FILE - Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, March 2, 2012.
FILE - Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva attends a news conference at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, March 2, 2012.
The spokesman says party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva will announce Saturday his reform proposal that would have to be accepted by “all parts of society.” That, he says, must include the interim government and the anti-government protest movement as a condition for the Democrats to participate in any election.
 
The kingdom has been enmeshed in political turmoil for eight years.

Anti-government demonstrators want to remove the influence of the Shinawatra family from Thai politics.
 
Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s elder brother, Thaksin, a wealthy businessman, was prime minister for five years until 2006, when he was ousted in a coup amid street protests by the yellow shirt movement.
 
Thaksin is in self-imposed exile to avoid being imprisoned for a corruption conviction. Despite living abroad, he still holds significant influence over his sister’s government and the Pheu Thai Party.  
 
Government in limbo

Yingluck came to power following the 2011 general election. But her government has been only partly functional since December, when she dissolved parliament and called for the February election.
 
Pro-government activists, known as the red shirts, fear protesters could try to again disrupt the next election resulting in another nullification.

 
Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra (R) and Deputy PM Surapong Tovichakchaikul arrive before a meeting with the Election Commission at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra (R) and Deputy PM Surapong Tovichakchaikul arrive before a meeting with the Election Commission at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.
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Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra (R) and Deputy PM Surapong Tovichakchaikul arrive before a meeting with the Election Commission at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.
Thailand's PM Yingluck Shinawatra (R) and Deputy PM Surapong Tovichakchaikul arrive before a meeting with the Election Commission at the Royal Thai Air Force Academy in Bangkok, Apr. 30, 2014.
Yingluck faces possible removal from office within weeks. A court is scheduled to rule whether she illegally transferred a high-ranking civil servant. She also faces other legal challenges.
 
Meanwhile, some of her core supporters in the rural north are angry that her cash-strapped government has failed to make payments to about one million rice farmers.
 
During recent anti-government protests, a key leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, has opposed fresh elections, saying the system is rigged to keep Thaksin and his family in power.
 
Suthep has repeatedly called for the country to be run for an indefinite period by an unelected people’s council he would help appoint. The former Democrat Party leader faces murder charges stemming from political unrest in 2010 that turned deadly. At that time Suthep was deputy prime minister and in charge of a crackdown against Red Shirt protesters.
 
News of the tentative election date was a page three story in Thursday’s Bangkok Post, an apparent indication of how low expectations are that the delayed polling will take place July 20.

The paper’s English language daily rival, The Nation, did make it a page one headline. But an analysis on page two warned that if leaders on both sides of the political crisis do not compromise, then “violent clashes between their supporters, fueled by hatred, will be inevitable.”
 
Thailand’s military, seen as more sympathetic to the anti-government protesters, has repeatedly indicated it will refrain from launching a coup. Thailand has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932, more than any other country.
 
The ultimate authority in Thailand is the highly revered King. But 86-year-old Bhumibol Aduyadej has been in poor health.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

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