Thailand should call off election, says electoral commission

The BBC's Jonathan Head says these protesters are a hardcore group determined to use everything they can to stop the election

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Thailand should not hold an election in February because the risk of violence against candidates is too high, the electoral commission has said.

The commission called on the government to postpone the 2 February vote.

A police officer was killed earlier in clashes with protesters trying to stop parties registering for the poll.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the snap election after weeks of protests that demanded an unelected "people's council" take power.

Analysis

In most other countries an attack on an official election site by protesters armed with slingshots and homemade bombs, resulting in the death of a police officer from a gunshot wound, would prompt a robust response from the authorities. A state of emergency perhaps, or the deployment of the army, as happened in Bangkok in 2010.

That this is not happening in Thailand - that protesters are free to block roads, occupy ministries and launch an assault on a stadium in which political parties were trying to prepare for a democratic election, tells you a lot about the polarised state of Thailand right now.

The police have a poor track record of crowd control, and are under orders to avoid serious casualties. They are also exhausted and demoralised after weeks of being pushed back by the protesters. They are seen by the protesters as partisan, favouring the governing party. They are shown little respect.

But there were also soldiers in that stadium, as there have been in other official locations attacked by the protest movement. They have stood by and let the police deal with the crowds.

Their refusal to act - the government's inability to mobilise any show of support from an army that is still an important player in Thai politics, speaks volumes.

This government has shown it can win election after election. But it does not command the loyalty of the country's most powerful institution, and that really limits its options.

The demonstrators dismissed the election, and the official opposition has refused to field candidates.

Protesters have further rejected another offer by Ms Yingluck to form a national reform council intended to run alongside her government.

They want Ms Yingluck to step down immediately.

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says there is a sense that there is weight behind the protesters' demands, with the head of the army also urging a postponement.

Government supporters have so far kept out of Bangkok, saying they would concentrate their efforts on winning the election.

But if the election is cancelled, they will be extremely angry, says our correspondent.

On Thursday, the protesters - some of whom were throwing stones - tried to break into the stadium where the electoral commission was registering candidates.

But police responded with tear gas, dispersing the crowd.

One police officer was killed, a nurse suffered gunshot wounds, and dozens of police and protesters were injured, some seriously.

Ms Yingluck dissolved parliament and called an election on 9 December, after more than 150,000 demonstrators took to the streets calling for her government to step down.

Riot policemen escort an anti-government protester during clashes at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok December 26 Protesters gathered in Bangkok to disrupt registration for February's election
An anti-government protester throws a tear gas canister towards policemen during clashes at the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok December 26 Police fired tear gas, and one officer was killed in clashes

Last Sunday, she said the election must take place and urged protesters to express their views at the ballot box.

Thailand's troubles

  • Sep 2006: Army ousts Thaksin Shinawatra
  • Dec 2007: Pro-Thaksin party wins election
  • Aug 2008: Thaksin flees Thailand
  • Dec 2008: Huge anti-Thaksin protests; court bans ruling party; Abhisit Vejjajiva comes to power
  • Mar-May 2010: Huge pro-Thaksin protests; dozens killed in army crackdown
  • Jul 2011: Yingluck Shinawatra elected PM
  • Nov 2013: Anti-government protests
  • Dec 2013: Ms Yingluck calls election

"If we don't hold on to the democratic system, what should we hold on to," she asked.

Her Pheu Thai Party won the last election in 2011 and has a big majority in parliament.

However, protesters say her brother - ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra - remains in charge.

Mr Thaksin is currently in self-imposed exile after he was overthrown in a military army coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption.

The latest crisis was sparked after the government attempted to pass an amnesty law that would have allowed Thaksin to return to Thailand.

He is still hugely popular in rural areas and in the north, and parties linked to him have won convincing majorities in every election they have contested since 2001.

But many city-dwellers bitterly oppose Mr Thaksin and have several times paralysed governments allied to him by launching massive demonstrations.

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