Thailand protests: Yingluck government rejects election delay

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's government has rejected calls to delay February's election, amid increasingly violent protests in which a policeman has been shot dead.

The Electoral Commission urged the postponement over safety fears for candidates on the campaign trail.

But government officials said parliament was already dissolved so there was no legal reason for a delay.

The protesters want the government to stand down and be replaced by an unelected "people's council".

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.

Violent scenes

In a televised address, Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana rejected the electoral commission's request.

"The Election Commission said holding elections will bring violence but the government believes delaying an election will cause more violence," he said.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra called the snap election, scheduled for 2 February, after weeks of protests.

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.

Thursday has seen some of the most violent scenes since the latest wave of protests began.

A hardcore group, some throwing stones and evidently some who were armed, 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 shot dead, a nurse suffered gunshot wounds, and dozens of police and protesters were injured, some seriously.

Ms Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party won the last election in 2011 and has a big majority in parliament.

However, protesters say her brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, controls the government from self-imposed exile.

He was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 and fled before being convicted of corruption.

Anti-government protesters gather as they block Vibhavadi Rangsit road after clashes with riot police in central Bangkok Unrest has been mounting in Thailand over the past few weeks and snap elections have been called; here anti-government protesters block Vibhavadi Rangsit Road
Riot policemen run after anti-government protesters trying to enter the Thai-Japan youth stadium in central Bangkok A policeman was killed in clashes with anti-government demonstrators outside a stadium where candidates were gathering to register for the general election
A Thai anti-government protester washes tear gas from her face during a clash with riot policemen at a sport stadium in Bangkok An anti-government protester washes tear gas from her face
Thai election commission officials are escorted by a policeman to a helicopter during an evacuation after the registration was disrupted by anti-government protesters at a sport stadium in Bangkok Election commission officials are escorted by a policeman to a helicopter during an evacuation after the election registration process was disrupted by anti-government protesters

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 Thaksin and have several times paralysed governments allied to him by launching massive demonstrations.

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