EC pushes poll delay to avoid unrest
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EC pushes poll delay to avoid unrest

Result 'faces rejection' if rivals can't reach accord

The Election Commission on Thursday warned that proceeding with the upcoming general election may fuel further unrest, and urged the government and protesters to reach a compromise.

Anti-government protesters arrive at Election Commission HQ at the Chaeng Wattana government complex to call for the Feb 2 election to be postponed. The EC has warned that proceeding with the election may fuel further unrest. Kitja Apichonrojarek

The five election commissioners also warned that holding an election during this time of intense political strife could lead to many people rejecting the poll result.

The EC made the statement as anti-government protesters, led by former Democrat Party MP Suthep Thaugsuban, marched in Bangkok to campaign for a boycott of the Feb 2 election.

Mr Suthep has called for a mass gathering on Sunday, one day before the EC opens the registration for party list candidates. The protest leader has vowed to ensure the polls do not take place.

Election commissioner Thirawat Thirarojwit said the polls have become another source of conflict in society. One side believes that maintaining the caretaker government and proceeding with the election is the solution, while the other demands that a new, neutral cabinet be installed until a "people's council" is formed to reform the country, he said.

"If the conflict continues, the Feb 2 election may not proceed peacefully. It is also possible that the result of an election under the circumstances won't be widely accepted," Mr Thirawat said.

He called on the government and the protest group, which calls itself the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), to lower their demands and try to find common ground.

Mr Thirawat insisted the EC is capable of holding the election despite the warnings. Still, he said the date can be changed if necessary and the poll should not be held as an obstacle to resolving the political standoff.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen said the question of whether to postpone the election or not now rests with the government. He said the EC is authorised to hold a free and fair election, but not to schedule one.

Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, the commissioner in charge of election administration, said it is possible to change by legal means the date of the election, which is presently fixed by the royal decree which dissolved the House. But he said it is more important for the parties to agree on when the election should be held instead.

The five commissioners did not offer suggestions on how the government and the PDRC could reach agreement.

Pravich Rattanapian, the commissioner for public participation, urged the government to pay attention to the EC's concerns.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday she is not certain the caretaker government has the power to move the election date. "I don't know on what basis can we follow the EC's recommendation," Ms Yingluck said during an inspection tour in Roi Et.

The caretaker premier said she would have to consult the Council of State, the government's legal adviser. Ms Yingluck said the caretaker cabinet has done its duty in calling for an election. It's now the EC's obligation to hold it according to the royal decree, she said.

Science Minister Peerapan Palusuk said the EC cannot pass the burden of the election on to the caretaker government. He said the EC must hold the election on Feb 2, as postponing it would violate the charter.

Former opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, however, welcomed the EC's proposal. He said all sides should be able to agree that the Feb 2 election will not be held smoothly and would be likely to escalate conflict.

The Democrat leader called on all political parties to reach a consensus on the need to postpone the election before the first day of candidacy registration on Monday.

Mr Abhisit said he has already been in discussion with the Bhumjaithai Party. He urged the caretaker PM and Pheu Thai Party to join the consensus. "Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck and Pheu Thai should face up to the truth that the country is not in a normal situation," Mr Abhisit said.

"The EC already said the election can be postponed, so they should stop saying it can't be," Mr Abhisit said. "Also, if every party agrees to postpone the poll, then no one will be at a disadvantage. This will be for the country."

Political parties have adopted different stances regarding the Feb 2 election. The ruling Pheu Thai Party and its Chart Pattana and Chat Thai Pattana coalition partners have vowed to take part in the polls. Bhumjaithai on Wednesday called for the election to be postponed to allow the reform of election laws.

The Democrat Party, many of whose former MPs are leaders of the anti-government protest, has come under pressure to boycott the election. The party said it will make its decision on Saturday, but its branch in Mr Suthep's hometown of Surat Thani has announced that it will not field any candidates for all seven constituencies in the province.

Democrat MP for Phitsanulok Warong Detkitwikrom said he believes the Democrats will be better off boycotting the election. "If we run, we will encounter problems with people who oppose the election who comprise our own base," he said.

Mr Warong also said with the protest still ongoing, he believes the election may have to be abandoned as it will only fuel conflict. He urged the Democrats not to rush into a decision. He said Pheu Thai does not want to run unopposed in the poll, so as long as the Democrats keep quiet about what they plan to do, the pressure will remain on the government.

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