BANGKOK (Reuters) - A meeting between Thailand’s interim prime minister and the Election Commission 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 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 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 government has asked to delay the meeting due to security concerns over the venue location,” said Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters. “We will meet with the government tomorrow at a different venue.”
Government spokesmen were not available for comment.
Somchai did not elaborate but the talks were planned at a government complex in north Bangkok near an anti-government protest site occupied by more radical demonstrators.
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 Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party would probably win, given the enduring popularity of her brother.
The Election Commission, which has been accused of sympathizing with the protest movement, said earlier it was unsure whether polls could go ahead on July 20, as tentatively agreed with 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.
Niwatthamrong told foreign media on Monday the election date might have to be pushed back.
But 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.
Thaksin has lived in self-exile to avoid a jail term for a 2008 conviction for graft, but remains a huge influence.
He or his loyalists have won every election since 2001, but his enemies attribute that to money politics and want reforms of the electoral system by an appointed “people’s council” before another vote.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister in a government led by the pro-establishment Democrat Party, is pushing the Senate to appoint an interim prime minister to oversee reforms aimed at ending Thaksin’s influence.
But the government says it still has a mandate and its legions of rural-based “red shirt” supporters have warned of violence if the government is deposed.
One undercurrent of a crisis that is increasingly dividing rich and poor is deep anxiety over the issue of royal succession. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, is 86 years old and spent the years from 2009 to 2013 in hospital.
Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn does not command the same devotion as his father, but some Thaksin supporters have recently been making a point of their loyalty to the prince.
Protesters from both aides are out in force in different parts of Bangkok and its outskirts. Some analysts are warning that the crisis could bring more intense violence which could in turn trigger a coup.
“The game plan of the anti-government protesters is to install their own prime minister. If this happens the pro-government side will not accept it and conflict will break out and force the military to intervene,” said political analyst Kan Yuenyong at the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
The army has a long record of intervening in politics, but military chiefs have stayed aloof from this crisis, insisting that politicians must sort out the dispute.
Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson