(20 December) Anti-government protesters are gaining new momentum after a member of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) said the upcoming general election could be legally postponed.
The People′s Committee for Absolute Democracy With the King As Head of State (PCAD) has previously rejected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra′s call for the new poll to be held on 2 February 2014, arguing that Thailand needs to implement a drastic "reform" to "educate" the voters before any election can take place.
The PCAD has proposed the formation of unelected 400-member ?People′s Council? to oversee those reforms – estimated to take at least 18 months – and called on Ms. Yingluck to be replaced with a Prime Minister royally appointed by His Majesty the King.
But the government has repeatedly rejected these demands, insisting that Ms. Yingluck will stay in power as caretaker leader and the election will go ahead as planned on 2 February.
However, the protesters appeared to have found an ally among the very agency responsible for overseeing the election, when Mr. Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, a member of the ECT, said the Commission is willing to postpone the general election if all political parties reach an agreement over the matter.
Although he acknowledged that there is no legal basis allowing for the election to be postponed, Mr. Somchai hinted that the government might find a way to delay the poll if it chooses to do so.
His remarks coincided with the beginning of PCAD′s new offensive to pressure the government into resigning or postponing the election. The protesters, led by PCAD strongman Suthep Thaugsuban, marched throughout Bangkok yesterday and even briefly threatened to storm into US Embassy of Bangkok to protest the US government′s alleged support for Ms. Yingluck.
PCAD also vowed further series of disruptive protests in coming days, including a plan to besiege the official residence of Ms. Yingluck, and a rally at Election Commission headquarters to prevent party candidates from submitting their application for the election.
Speaking on the rally stage at Ratchadamnoen Avenue yesterday, senior PCAD activist Satit Wongnongtoey welcomed Mr. Somchai′s suggestion that the election could be postponed.
He told the crowd that they have already achieved one victory. "Only one more task is left, which is to force the Prime Minister to quit," Mr. Satit told the crowd.
Meanwhile, members of Pheu Thai leadership are mortified by Mr. Somchai′s remarks.
Mr. Jarupong Ruengsuwan, chairman of Pheu Thai Party, said he is disappointed by the suggestion. "How could ECT come up with this idea? The new ECT members have done many important duties. Some has been judges. Some has held important posts. Yet that′s all they can think?" Mr. Jarupong said.
He added, "If you think about it, this starts to look like a political conspiracy. Why do they agree with the protesters so easily?"
Mr. Jarupong insisted that the government will not suffer the election to be postponed, and warned that the ECT would risk violating the laws if it fails to organise the election as scheduled.
"If the ECT is so afraid of PCAD, it should request the military to ensure public order on the election day," Mr. Jarupong quipped.
Former Pheu Thai MP and leader of the Redshirts organisation, Mr. Nattawut Saikua, likewise criticised the ECT′s alleged complicity with the PCAD protesters. Mr. Nattawut said the ECT has greatly confused the public and become a tool for the protesters.
In a Facebook post, Mr. Nattawut stressed that Article 108 of the 2007 Constitution clearly dictates that a new election must be held within 45-60 days after the House dissolution. "Did the ECT spend more time watching [anti-government TV channel] Blue Sky than reading the legal documents?" Mr. Nattawut asked.
"How confident is ECT that the nation will not end up in chaos if the election is postponed? Can you picture people who disagree with Mr. Suthep coming out [on the streets] and taking back their sovereign power?" Mr. Nattawut continued, "This amounts to postponing democracy and replacing it with Suthepocracy".
Ms. Yingluck also met privately with members of the ECT earlier this morning to discuss the procedures of next general election, but officials have not yet undisclosed the details of their discussion.