Thai election commission wants July 20 polls postponed

Anti-government protesters gather at the site of an attack at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on May 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Anti-government protesters gather at the site of an attack at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on May 15, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - Thailand’s election commission has called for planned July 20 polls to be postponed, after anti-government protesters invaded a meeting between its officials and the caretaker government on Thursday morning.

“The election on July 20 is no longer possible,” the commission’s secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong told the AFP, after caretaker ministers were forced to leave the meeting at the air force headquarters in northern Bangkok.

The delay will prolong the country’s six-month-long political limbo, which was triggered by street unrest late last year and exacerbated when protesters sabotaged the Feb 2 polls, which were later annulled by the Constitutional Court.

More than 20 people have been killed in the political unrest since late last year. On Thursday, a pre-dawn attack on an anti-government rally venue left at least three people dead and more than 20 people injured. 

Attackers had lobbed grenades and shot at the protesters camped out near the Democracy Monument to demand the removal of the Puea Thai party-led caretaker government.

It is not clear who are behind the attacks, as both pro- and anti-government supporters are known to have armed militants in their midst.

Protesters have vowed to disrupt any election as they want reforms to be conducted before polls are held.

The unrest is part of an eight-year-old conflict between supporters and opponents of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 but continues to hold sway over the country through his political parties and allies.

Anti-government protesters supported by the royalist elites and urban middle class insist that Thailand no longer has a prime minister after then caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s sister - was expelled by the charter court last week over the illegal transfer of a senior official in 2011. They demand that the country’s Upper House appoint an interim government instead.

Acting caretaker prime minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, who was appointed last Wednesday to take over Ms Yingluck, maintains that he is in charge until the next election.

But he has indicated he was open to all lawful proposals to resolve the crisis.

Thailand’s senators, meanwhile, have been meeting various groups of people in parliament, including anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, to try to chart a “road map” out of the conflict.

They have not, however, met leaders of the most prominent pro-government group, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), which is rallying on the outskirts of Bangkok. 

The UDD, or red shirts, have threatened to escalate their protest if an interim prime minister is appointed.