All roads lead to charter court over poll legitimacy

All roads lead to charter court over poll legitimacy

Only 45% — or 19 million out of the 43 million eligible voters — cast their ballots on Feb 2, a big decline compared with the 2011 poll which recorded a 75% voter turnout.

Furthermore, this poll saw a high percentage of "no votes" at 16.4%, from only 2.7% in the previous poll. Damaged ballots were also at a record high at 11% of the total.

Out of the 20-plus million people who did not cast their votes, half of them are habitual non-voters. The other half probably responded to the ""no vote" call from the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

It is likely they are also supporters of the Democrat Party, who stagted a boycott of the Sunday poll.

The Pheu Thai Party candidates won the highest number of votes in each constituency, but their votes were generally lower by half.

In Bangkok, for example, they used to get no less than 40,000-50,000 votes in the constituencies where they triumphed. This year, no Bangkok constituency gave Pheu Thai more than 25,000 votes.

Even so, Pheu Thai continued to insist that the Sunday poll was its biggest victory as they won over 300 seats, more than the 265 seats they clinched at the previous poll.

When the Jan 26 advance voting was disrupted, the Election Commission (EC) announced it would reorganise the advance polling for Feb 23. Now, it has become quite clear that this won't happen.

The commission is also planning to announce that people who could not or did not vote would not lose their rights to be political candidates or to impeach politicians.

Several election commissioners are of the belief that the poll, should it be reorganised, will be disrupted again given the ongoing fierce political conflict. They also believe there is a strong possibility that the Sunday poll eventually will be annulled by the Constitution Court anyway.

The Democrats have petitioned the court to annul the Feb 2 poll on the grounds that they believe it is unconstitutional. According to the constitution, the general election must be held nationwide on the same day. Also, there were no candidates running in 28 election districts.

There is also a question mark over who has the authority to order a new poll. The EC said the government has the authority to issue the royal decree on the new poll. The government said it is the EC's job.

Both know that a new election will not be an easy thing to accomplish. The anti-government movement has vowed to prevent it. It succeeded in doing so on Jan 26 and many believe it will succeed again.

With the poll uncompleted, the names of 125 party-list MPs cannot be announced. This is due to 28 districts failing to register any MPs at all while 16 districts have only just one candidate who will be ineligible because they failed to get the minimum 20% of the votes in their respective districts.

The parliamentary assembly needs 475 MPs or 95% of the assembly to be able to begin operating within 30 days after the election. It is clear it cannot do so due to the lack of a quorum.

No parliamentary assembly, no new government. That again is as clear as daylight.

This is a big battle for the government. Continuing to be a caretaker government means it does not have full authority to run the country. It also means the government will become even weaker in the face of angry rice farmers and the reluctance of both state and commercial banks to give the government more loans to support the rice-pledging scheme.

For caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, it means increased pressure on her to step down.

One source says the EC itself may ask the court to rule whether the Sunday poll should be annulled.

The commission had recommended postponing the poll, to no avail. Given the commotion ahead, it wants the court to rule if the EC should go ahead with reorganising the poll so the House has the full number of lawmakers required by the charter.

By passing the buck to the Constitution Court, the EC believes it can avoid shouldering the legal burden should the election eventually be ruled unconstitutional.

Several core leaders in Pheu Thai also believe the Feb 2 poll will be annulled. Given this widespread sentiment, anti-government protest leaders have become more confident that the PDRC's reform plan will prevail.

The EC has previously proposed amending the election law. For starters, populist policies should be barred. The amount of money allowed for election campaigns should also be reduced.

In his latest rally speech, protest

leader Suthep Thaugsuban also expressed confidence the Feb 2 poll would be declared void. He also called on academics to provide input for national reform.

High on his agenda is how to stop political parties from using populist policies to win votes which benefit politicians and their cronies at the cost of the national economy.

All roads lead to the Constitution Court again to settle the difference, though this government has once before spurned its ruling. The PDRC, however, has vowed to respect the ruling.

It's worth looking back at April 2, 2006 poll. The court annulled it and ordered a new poll on Oct 9 the same year. The Democrat Party, after boycotting the April 2 poll, decided to contest again. Should the Feb 2 poll be revoked, another big question that remains is, will there be enough time before the new election to reform the election rules so it will be truly free and fair the next time round?

Nattaya Chetchotiros is Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

Nattaya Chetchotiros

Assistant News Editor

Nattaya Chetchotiros is Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

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