Thailand’s election commission yesterday called for forthcoming polls to be delayed as a police officer was killed and nearly 100 people injured in street battles between security forces and protesters seeking to disrupt the ballot
Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra wants the 2 February elections to take place as scheduled, believing she will win.
The street violence adds to pressure on her to take a tougher line against the protesters, risking more chaos and possible intervention by the army.
The hours-long unrest took place outside a Bangkok sports stadium where candidates were gathering to draw lots for their positions on ballots. Protesters threw stones as they tried to break into the building, while police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. Police said protesters fired live bullets, one of which killed the officer, who died after being airlifted to hospital. Four election commissioners also left the stadium by helicopter to escape the violence, some of the worst since a long-running dispute between Thailand’s bitterly divided political factions flared two months ago, pitching the South-east Asian nation into fresh turmoil.
The protest movement regards Ms Shinawatra’s administration as a corrupt, illegitimate proxy for her brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.
It is demanding that the elections be delayed until Ms Shinawatra leaves office and reforms are implemented.
The election commission said it was urging the government to consider postponing the elections. Commission head Somchai Srisutthiyakorn denied it was “involving itself in politics” by urging a delay “We have good intentions and want to see peace,” he told reporters. Deputy premier Pongthep Thepkanchana said he was unable to change the date of the polls.
“The date, 2 February 2014, was set as the election day in the royal decree dissolving parliament, and there is nothing within the constitution or the law that gives the government the authority to change thise,” he said. According to the constitution, elections must be held 45 to 60 days from the date that parliament is dissolved.
The anti-government protests began in late October, but yesterday’s violence was the first in nearly two weeks.
At least 96 people were injured as protesters armed with slingshots and wearing gas masks fought police.
Later in the day, protesters stormed a government building, vandalised cars and blocked a major road leading to the smaller of Bangkok’s two airports.
Police have made no move to arrest the protest movement’s ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding Thailand be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.
In a speech late yesterday, Mr Thaugsuban said he regretted the violence, but denied that protesters were responsible, instead blaming infiltrators or supporters of Ms Shinawatra.
Thailand has been wracked by political conflict since Mr Shinawatra was deposed. He lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail time for a corruption conviction, but still wields influence.
He or his allies have won every election since 2001 thanks to strong support in the north and north-east. His supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class, which has strong links to the royal family. On Wednesday, Ms Shinawatra announced a plan for a reform council to come up with a compromise to the crisis, but it was rejected by protesters. The main opposition party has announced it is boycotting the elections.
Ms Shinawatra led Thailand for two years relatively smoothly. But in October, her government tried to introduce an amnesty law that would have allowed her billionaire brother to return as a free man, sparking the latest round of unrest.