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Thai Court Casts Doubt on Validity of Recent Elections

In Thailand, a senior court has cancelled controversial by-elections due to be held Saturday, and is considering a petition to annul snap elections held April 2. The cancellation comes amid political uncertainties that follow months of protests against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thailand's Administrative Court said Friday it was halting by-elections in 14 voting districts in order to prevent further damage to the country.

The court is now considering petitions calling for annulment of parliamentary elections held on April 2, which were inconclusive and led to the current constitutional impasse.

Chief justices of the country's three top courts are considering various petitions, looking for ways to end a three-month political confrontation between the government and the opposition.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, said the country's three senior courts (Supreme, Administrative, Constitutional) would consult each other on the legal issues surrounding the April 2 elections. He said the court chiefs concluded that each court would consider the cases over which it had jurisdiction, and would deliver its judgment in a timely fashion.

The Administrative Court, which oversees the legality of elections, had received several petitions calling for it to annul the April 2 vote because of allegations of fraud and polling irregularities. That vote was boycotted by the three main opposition parties. Because of the boycott, 14 seats were not filled on April 2, or in a second vote held last week.

The Election Commission was set to hold the third round of voting amid a looming constitutional crisis. Thailand's 1997 constitution says the parliament cannot meet unless all seats have been filled, but also says the parliament must convene within 30 days of the election - in this case, by May 2.

Amid the rising uncertainties, Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in a rare political pronouncement, told the justices earlier this week to assume their responsibilities and resolve the mess, or resign.

The Thai monarch said he would not intercede in the confrontation by appointing a new government, a move he said would be undemocratic. But he also criticized the April 2 elections as undemocratic.

The opposition boycotted the vote, saying any election under the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would not be fair. It had called on the king to appoint a neutral government, but has since withdrawn the request.

Mr. Thaksin was re-elected prime minister last year by a landslide, but weeks of street demonstrations forced him to call the snap elections on April 2. Two days after those elections, he took a leave of absence from his post, and said he would not be a candidate for prime minister in the next parliament.

Mr. Thaksin's party won 56 percent of the vote in the April 2 poll, but one-third of the voters cast abstention ballots, delivering a strong protest against his government.

On Friday, one of the leaders of the street demonstrations, Sondhi Limthongkul, turned himself into police after an arrest warrant was issued on charges of insulting the king, a serious crime in Thailand. The charges stemmed from speeches he made during the rallies.