Talks on Thai poll date postponed over security concerns

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - A meeting between Thailand's interim prime minister and the Election Commission (EC) to fix a date for polls that the government hopes will break a stalemate was postponed on Wednesday due to security concern over the venue, a commission official said.

"The government has asked to delay the meeting due to security concerns over the venue location," said Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn. "We will meet with the government tomorrow at a different venue."

Mr Somchai did not elaborate but the talks were orginally scheduled at a government complex in north Bangkok near an anti-government protest site occupied by more radical demonstrators.

The government sees the polls as the best way out of a protracted crisis that has brought sporadic violence to the streets of Bangkok, threatened to tip the economy into recession and even raised fears of civil war.

But the government's opponents would probably reject a general election anyway in the belief that the ruling party would win it. They want electoral reform aimed at ending the influence of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra before another vote.

The turmoil that began with the eruption of anti-government protest six months ago is the latest phase in nearly 10 years of hostility between the royalist establishment and Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire who won huge support among the rural and urban poor but angered the Bangkok-based elite. He was deposed by the military in a 2006 coup.

Last week, the Constitutional Court threw Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, and nine of her cabinet ministers out of office for abuse of power. But the remaining ministers selected a new premier and the caretaker government is hoping to survive until a new election can be held that Ms Yingluck's Puea Thai Party would probably win, given the enduring popularity of her brother.

The EC, which has been accused of sympathising with the protest movement, said earlier that it was unsure whether polls could go ahead on July 20, as tentatively agreed with Ms Yingluck, given the short time and instability.

It is also unclear whether acting Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan has the authority to issue a decree for a new election date. Mr Niwatthamrong told foreign media on Monday the election date might have to be pushed back.

For the government, an election is the only way forward. Its opponents, on the other hand, are almost bound to boycott and disrupt it, as they did in February, resulting in the election then being declared void.