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Phuket Gazette Thailand News: Election standoff begins; Police deployed; Reds rile rice farmers

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– Thailand news compiled by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Suthep threatens election day shutdown
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the ongoing anti-government protest, yesterday threatened to bring Bangkok to a “complete shutdown” on election day, while half of the 400,000-strong national police force is expected to be deployed to maintain law and order on the day.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will start marching down the streets of Bangkok from today until Saturday, before calling for another mass rally on Sunday, he said.

“On February 2, we will completely shut down Bangkok. Roads will be turned into pedestrian walkways and people will not have to go to vote,” he announced on stage at the Lumpini Park protest site last night.

He also called on eligible voters to join the PDRC at its protest sites across the capital instead. “Don’t regret losing out on your rights [from not voting],” he said.

According to Suthep, the protest marches over the next three days would cover Sukhumvit, Ratchadaphisek and Silom roads, as well as Yaowaraj, where Chinatown is located.

Three mass rallies had been called by the PDRC in November and December, attended by several thousands of people, before the start of its “Bangkok shutdown” campaign on January 13 to force the caretaker Cabinet to resign and pave the way for national reforms.

A PDRC source said it planned to besiege half of the ballot stations in Bangkok although it would attempt to disrupt voting in all 50 districts of the capital.

Assistant national police chief Pol Lt Gen Amnart An-atngam said yesterday that more than 250,000 policemen would be deployed, in addition to 1,450 rapid-deployment units on standby at police stations.

The focus would be on polling stations in Bangkok and 10 provinces in the South where advance voting was disrupted last Sunday by protesters, he added.

He said that advance voting was held without any incidents in more than 80 per cent of the polling stations. He expected a similar situation, largely without violence, this Sunday when eligible voters go to the polls at 93,535 voting stations in all 77 provinces.

He said the police have security plans for election officials and ballot papers and noted that shipments of ballot papers for the South remained blocked at the region’s three major postal centres.

Protesters linked to the PDRC yesterday blockaded the three centres in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district, Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Thung Song district, and Chumphon’s Muang district. As a result, ballot papers sent by mail from the Election Commission (EC) in Bangkok to those post offices could not be distributed to other southern provinces. The protesters said they planned to blockade the post offices until election day.

Songkhla’s election head, Anont Manasvanit, said if the blockade continued, it was likely that ballot papers would not reach the voting stations in time for the election.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen said in Bangkok he expected the blockade to affect voting in the South as the polling stations would not have ballot papers.

In Bangkok, the directors of three districts – Bang Kapi, Bang Kho Laem and Yan Nawa – have resigned as election officials ex-officio following threat of legal action by those affected by the disruption of advance voting, said Ninnart Chalitanont, permanent secretary of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Ninnart said they would be replaced and she did not think Sunday’s voting would be affected.

Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is also leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, yesterday said he has instructed provincial governors to campaign for eligible voters to turn out in large numbers this Sunday.

The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order has assigned four agencies to take possible legal action against people and organisations that provide financial assistance to the PDRC, Department of Special Investigation chief Tarit Pengdith was speaking after a meeting yesterday.

The Army has sent its soldiers to help maintain peace and security for both officials and protesters, Army deputy spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said.

Soldiers would conduct patrols around the protest sites and there were rapid-deployment units in case of emergency, he said.

Democrats, PDRC wrestle with election day strategy
The Nation / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: The decision by the caretaker government to go ahead with the election on Sunday poses a dilemma for both the Democrat Party – which boycotted the election – and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which seeks reform before the election.

Now, as pressure mounts on the Democrats, former Democrat MPs are analysing scenarios during the poll, according to the party’s executive committee.

A party source said several Democrats suggested the party should campaign for a “no vote”, encouraging voters to go to the polls, but not to vote for any candidate.

This would reduce the Pheu Thai Party’s ability to use the election results to claim support for the Thaksin regime. It would also prevent former MPs from being stripped of their political rights if they failed to attend the voting.

But other members said the party could not campaign for a “no vote” because it had not fielded any candidates for the snap election, the source added.

“If we launched the campaign we might get sued by the Pheu Thai Party. It would also create a conflict between us and the PDRC and undermine its goal to push for reform before an election. So Democrat members should make their own decisions on whether to go out to vote or not,” the source said.

Deputy secretary general Sirichok Sopha said his party had no need to campaign for a “no vote” because the February 2 election would eventually be nullified.

He said the Election Commission could not hold elections in 28 constituencies that lacked candidates to contest the ballot on other dates. Article 108 of the Constitution stipulates that the national election has to be held on only the scheduled date.

“Now we have only three days before the election. It might not be long enough to launch the campaign. I think if more than 50 per cent of voters refuse to show up, the upcoming election result would not be valid,” he said.

Sirichok, who is a close aide of Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, admitted that he and Abhisit would probably not go to the poll. He questioned why he should vote in an election that was going to fail.

“Abhisit also had the same idea, and everything he did, he did for his beliefs. So he might not turn out to vote,” Sirichok said.

The source said former MPs who decide not to show up at the polling booths will inform the EC within seven days, explaining that they had no confidence in the security as rallies against the election would affect them on election day.

“I heard that the PDRC leaders planned to block many polling stations, especially those where the caretaker prime minister, ministers and well-known public figures [will cast their votes],” the source said.

Meanwhile, a former Democrat MP who asked not to be named said several members are concerned that if they go to the poll they could be photographed by pro-government supporters and the images later posted on social media.

“The party leaders decided not to contest the election, but did not boycott th

— Phuket Gazette Editors

 

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