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Thai court set to rule on whether Feb. election goes ahead

Source: Reuters - Fri, 24 Jan 2014 02:46 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat

BANGKOK, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Thailand's Constitutional Court could rule on Friday whether a Feb. 2 election can go ahead, though whatever it decides there is little sign of a quick end to the political crisis dragging down Southeast Asia's second biggest economy.

Anti-government firebrand Suthep Thaugsuban, who has called for a boycott of the election, told his whistle-blowing supporters at a rally on Thursday night to disrupt the vote if it does take place.

"I'm telling you now, you must not get ready to vote. You must not go because we will close every road," Suthep told the rally.

"I want you to know that the (anti-government movement) ... is ready in every province. There is no way this election will take place," he said.

The Constitutional Court deferred a ruling on Thursday whether the February vote can be postponed. The Election Commission says the country is too volatile to hold a general election now and that technicalities mean it is bound to result in a parliament with too few lawmakers to form a quorum.

The government says the decree to hold the election on that date has been signed by the king and cannot be changed.

Even if the main opposition party does compete, political analysts say Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would almost certainly win the vote, which she called to win a fresh mandate for her government in the face of the protests trying to push her from power.

The protests are the latest eruption of an eight-year-long tussle for power that in broad terms sets Bangkok's middle class and the royalist establishment that Suthep claims to represent against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin fled into exile in 2008 to avoid a jail sentence for abuse of power, after being toppled by the army in 2006.

The protesters accuse him and his sister of corruption and nepotism and want a "people's council" to take over the running of the country to introduce large-scale, but so far vaguely specified, reforms.

The government has imposed a state of emergency that gives it sweeping powers to make arrests, set a curfew and prevent protests.

So far, it has made no moves to implement measures or disperse the thinning numbers of protesters who have blocked off some parts of the capital with their "Shutdown Bangkok" movement, now in its third month.

Most economists have cut growth forecasts Thailand this year and some companies are reviewing investment plans as a result of the political deadlock.

The protests have been mostly quiet this week after an explosion of violence at the weekend in which one man died and dozens of anti-government protesters were wounded. Nine people have died since the protests began in November.

The violence is the worst since 2010 when Suthep, at the time a deputy prime minister, sent in troops to end mass protests by pro-Thaksin supporters.

The army, which has staged or attempted 18 coups in the past 81 years of on-off democracy, has so far kept out of the fray.

The government has gone out of its way to avoid confrontation with the protesters, allowing them to close off a number of government offices. Its "red shirt" supporters have also largely kept away from the capital.

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