CORRECTED links to videos below.
Thailand’s Election Commission on Thursday urged the government to delay polls scheduled for Feb. 2 after hours of violent protests, adding to political uncertainty in the country.
The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been insisting the polls should go ahead as planned. The protest movement seeking to oust her is demanding they be delayed, and has vowed to disrupt them.
In a statement, the commission said it was urging the government to consider “postponing the elections,” citing the lack of “peace” between the government and protesters.
The development followed violent protests between demonstrators and police outside a sports stadium where candidates were gathering to draw lots for their position on polling papers.
The demonstrators, some armed with sling shots, threw rocks and attempted to break through police lines. Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets. …
Inside the stadium, candidates for at least 27 parties took part in the lot-drawing process, which went on unaffected despite the turmoil outside the gates.
Four election commissioners left the stadium on a helicopter, according to a spokesman for the body.
The clashes were contained to the area around the stadium but stretched into the morning. It was the first violent incident in nearly two weeks of daily protests on the streets of Bangkok.
The protesters have been demanding that Yingluck step down since mid-October, and street unrest has occasionally broken out. They oppose the polls because Yingluck is seen as sure to win them.
Police have largely shown restraint and have made no move to arrest the ringleader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who is demanding the country be led by an unelected council until reforms can be implemented.
BP: Police later confirmed one police officer was shot and killed and so far from yesterday there are no confirmed reports of any protester deaths…
A postponement would be a victory for the protesters, who oppose the elections on the grounds that they will probably return to power the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose party is very popular in the northern half of the country but is despised by many southerners and members of the Thai elite.
Over the past month, protesters have raided government ministry buildings, cut power to government offices and police stations, and marched through Bangkok in huge numbers. On Thursday, they tried to raid a Bangkok stadium where political parties were completing pre-election formalities.
Their attacks on the stadium were thwarted by riot police officers. One officer was killed by gunfire, 15 officers had gunshot wounds and 17 suffered other injuries, the police said.
Although many of the protesters who have marched through Bangkok in recent weeks are from the upper echelons of Thai society, the group that attacked the riot police on Thursday was part of a hard-core faction. About 70 protesters were injured, as were several journalists.
“The anti-Thaksin camp is trying to push the government to the brink of creating a power vacuum and so an unelected government can take over,” said Kan Yuanyong, director of the Siam Intelligence Unit think-tank.
“The real objective here is not about the need for reform, it’s to break the Thaksin regime.”
Any attempt to thwart the election would likely enrage Thaksin’s loyal supporters, whose rallies in 2010 against a previous government ended with a military crackdown that killed more than 90 people. They have vowed to defend Yingluck.
The EC issued a statement offering to mediate between the two sides, but said it could “exercise its right” to resolve the crisis itself in a January 2 meeting. It did not elaborate.
The weeks of protests have been largely peaceful. At their peak, they have drawn 200,000 people on to the streets of Bangkok for processions. A hard-core of about 500 people were behind the violence on Thursday.
BP: BBC has good video of the protests from early this morning on the use of tear gas.. and agree with Kan….
An EC source said that at least three out of five commissioners might resign if the poll is not delayed, which would render the EC unable to perform its duty.
At least three commissioners must be present to legally convene a meeting.
In another option, three of the commissioners might vote to postpone the election regardless of whether the law gives them the authority to make such a decision.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanchana said the Feb 2 election was set under the constitution, which requires a new election within 60 days of House dissolution. He noted the election date has been issued under royal decree.
”There is no clause in the charter or any other law which authorises the government to postpone the election date. Only an organic law concerning the election allows the EC to set a new election date for only any poll unit which fails to perform the election due to uncontrollable incidents,” he said.
The Council of State, the government’s legal arm, insisted yesterday it would be impossible to postpone the upcoming general election.
Council secretary-general Chukiat Rattanachaicharn said Section 108 of the constitution requires that the election be organised within 60 days of the House dissolution, or by Feb 6.
It would therefore be impossible to amend the royal decree on the election to allow the polls to be arranged at a later time, Mr Chukiat said.
Any move to change the election date would violate the constitution, he added.
BP: The Council of State render legal opinions for the executive and if they say it would be unconstitutional then if Yingluck was to act to postpone the election she would be in legal jeopardy.
“The government is now being pressured by the increasingly violent protesters on the one hand and now by the decision of the Election Commission,” Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at New-York based Human Rights Watch in Bangkok, said by phone. “This sends a very bad and worrying message for the future of democracy in Thailand.”
“Every political group in Thailand has resorted to violence to achieve their goal,” Sunai said. “And now they move their goal up to another level: That is to use thuggery to disrupt the election process, which is a key ingredient in a democracy.”
BP: Exactly. There are debates about exactly what is democracy, but an election is the key characteristic as you can’t have democracy without an election….
Jonathan Head’s analysis for the BBC:
In most other countries an attack on an official election site by protesters armed with slingshots and homemade bombs, resulting in the death of a police officer from a gunshot wound, would prompt a robust response from the authorities. A state of emergency perhaps, or the deployment of the army, as happened in Bangkok in 2010.
That this is not happening in Thailand – that protesters are free to block roads, occupy ministries and launch an assault on a stadium in which political parties were trying to prepare for a democratic election, tells you a lot about the polarised state of Thailand right now.
The police have a poor track record of crowd control, and are under orders to avoid serious casualties. They are also exhausted and demoralised after weeks of being pushed back by the protesters. They are seen by the protesters as partisan, favouring the governing party. They are shown little respect.
But there were also soldiers in that stadium, as there have been in other official locations attacked by the protest movement. They have stood by and let the police deal with the crowds.
Their refusal to act – the government’s inability to mobilise any show of support from an army that is still an important player in Thai politics, speaks volumes.
This government has shown it can win election after election. But it does not command the loyalty of the country’s most powerful institution, and that really limits its options.
Some tweets from yesterday:
— Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) December 26, 2013
3. Although, as Sunai of Human Rights Watch notes:
BP: That photo is from Reuters…
Police have been using tear gas and firing rubber projectiles, but have also got out of hand by using excessive force. For example:
BP: Another video of the same incident is here. It seems just like rage and anger with police taking out on the vehicle.
5. Another tweet by Sunai of HRW:
Violence by anti-government protesters & police need to be impartially & seriously investigated. Abusers must be held accountable. #Thailand
— Sunai (@sunaibkk) December 26, 2013
BP: Agree. Police commanders need to tell police to calm down. There is no justification for using batons against a protester vehicle. However, some of what the protesters have been doing is not hit the cars only, but the video below shows the aftermath of an attack against a taxi driver by the protesters (it is fairly GRAPHIC):
BP: The latest from Prachatai at 2am is that he is in hospital, but now out of danger.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Suthep:
Suthep Thaugsuban (19.52): I humbly salute those of you handled the police brutality today peacefully and patiently. I had feared this day would come when Surapong took over CAPO.
BP: That is per PDRC’s own summary of what Suthep said…. Yes, it is the same Suthep from 2010 and you are not imagining a different Suthep.
On what is next, The Nation:
Meanwhile, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) yesterday found grounds to pursue charges against former Parliament president and House ex-speaker Somsak Kiatsuranont and deputy Parliament president Nikom Wairatpanit, who is also Senate speaker, in connection with the parliamentary deliberation of a constitutional amendment bill to change the Senate composition.
The agency said it would decide on January 7 whether to charge 381 ex-MPs and senators who backed charter amendment. These included caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and many government MPs.
Army commander-in-chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to make a statement on the current political situation today, when he chairs a meeting of Army unit commanders, according to an Army source.
BP: Expect more chaos. Both sides are too far apart and the protesters/Democrats are “all in” on it succeeding so see little chance of compromise. We could have a judicial, military, or independent organisation coup with the latter being the most likely, but they will have to weigh up the response from the reds..