Thailand’s government has rejected a call from the country’s Election Commission to delay a February vote to choose a new parliament, as protesters opposed to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra increasingly resort to violence to disrupt the polls.
Anti-government demonstrations have been going on for weeks as “yellow shirt” protesters – most drawn from the ranks of Thailand’s urban middle class — have sought to oust Yingluck, whose government was elected in a 2011 landslide, mostly with support from the country’s poorer, rural farming communities.
In response to the protests, Yingluck dissolved parliament and called new elections, but the opposition says it wants her government to be replaced by an unelected “people’s council.”
The yellow shirts are vehemently opposed to Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled in a 2006 military putsch. Although Thaksin now lives in self-imposed exile after he was charged with corruption, the protesters say he is still pulling the strings of government via his sister.
The Bangkok Post reports that after violent clashes Thursday morning between the protesters and police at a sports stadium where candidates in the Feb. 2 elections were drawing up ballot papers, the secretary-general of Thailand’s Election Commission, Supachi Somcharoen, called on the government to postpone the elections until a joint agreement can be reached “by all concerned.”
“The EC is ready to act as a mediator to find a joint settlement,” a statement from the commission read.
However, in a televised address, Deputy Prime Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana rejected the EC’s request, the BBC reports:
“‘The Election Commission said holding elections will bring violence but the government believes delaying an election will cause more violence,’ he said.”
The latest round of unrest in a tit-for-tat between the yellow shirts and pro-government “red shirts” began last month when the lower house of parliament passed an amnesty bill that would have paved the way for Thaksin to return to the country. Yingluck’s government later withdrew the controversial bill, but that failed to quell protests.
“The legacy of Thaksin, a telecom tycoon who served as premier for five years beginning in 2001, roughly splits the country between middle- and upper-class urban Thais who opposed his populist policies, and poorer, rural Thais, from the country’s north and northeast rice-growing regions. The yellow shirts accuse him of corruption in both his government and business dealings and oppose rice subsidies and a low-cost health scheme for the poor enacted during his tenure.”