Leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will decide today whether they should block the roads leading to the polling stations or besiege the polling stations, making it impossible for voters to cast their ballots, a PDRC source said.
“The decision on one of the two choices will be made [today]. The operation will definitely take place on Sunday,” the source said.
This PDRC “operation” will be implemented mainly in Bangkok, according to the source, who added that protesters in the provinces might also try to disrupt advance voting locally.
A venue for advance voting – mostly district offices – has been designated in each of the capital’s 50 districts.
The Constitutional Court will rule today on whether the election will be held on February 2, and on whether any government agencies or the Election Commission (EC) have the authority to set a new date, amid the caretaker government’s continued strong push for the poll to be held as scheduled.
The court decided yesterday to take the EC’s petition into its consideration and will make a ruling today. It must act quickly because advance polling is due to take place on Sunday.
The Constitutional Court has jurisdiction to rule on these issues, as two state authorities are in conflict.
The EC has proposed that the election be rescheduled for May, as it cannot make voting go smoothly because of the anti-government protests in Bangkok and some other provinces, especially in the South. The government disagrees and insists the election must be held on the original schedule, saying the Constitution does not allow for a new date or delay.
To push its case, the caretaker government has asked the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) to cooperate with the poll agency to keep order during advance voting on Sunday, PM’s secretary-general Suranand Vejjajiva said after a special meeting of the Cabinet yesterday.
A state of emergency was imposed in Bangkok and its outskirts on Wednesday. The government set up the CMPO to take care of the situation.
In a related development, caretaker Prime Minister and Defence Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday told the military’s top brass at a Defence Council meeting to instruct their subordinates to exercise their voting rights, Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Thanathip Sawangsaeng said.
Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said he feared that after the poll, lawsuits would be filed seeking its nullification because voting will fail to be held on the same day nationwide, as required by the law.
Currently, there are no candidates registered in 28 constituencies in the South.
Under the emergency decree invoked on Wednesday, the caretaker government yesterday banned public gatherings of five or more people and the distribution of news in a manner that threatened national security, but stopped short of imposing curfew at night.
Those measures were among the six published in the Royal Gazette following the declaration of a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok, Nonthaburi and parts of Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan.
The announcement, signed by caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, also authorised the government’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO) to prohibit the use of transport in certain areas and the use of certain buildings, as well as the evacuation of people from certain places or areas.
Now that the state of emergency is in place, authorities will focus on arresting the leaders of the anti-government movement in a bid to end their rally that has gone on for more than 80 days, Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who heads the CMPO, said.
Authorities are allowed to detain them for 30 days under the emergency law, he said.
There would be no violence against the protesters and there would be no operation to disperse the street demonstrations, he said.
“The government wants peace to be restored,” he said.
The CMPO was considering arresting all the leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee in the hope of resolving the protest crisis and ending the demonstrations within 60 days, he said.
People providing financial support to the protest movement might face legal action, as their identities were known, he said, adding he might ask the Anti Money Laundering Office to investigate.
PM meets military top brass
Yingluck, who is also the defence minister, urged the Armed Forces to take good care of their weapons and ensure they would not be stolen during this time of high political tensions, said Colonel Thanathip Sawangsaeng, spokesman for the Defence Ministry.
Yingluck chaired a meeting of the Defence Council at the Air Force headquarters with Deputy Defence Minister General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, Permanent Secretary for Defence General Nipat Thonglek, Supreme Commander General General Thanasak Patimaprakorn, Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Navy chief Admiral Narong Pipatanasai, Air Force chief ACM Prajin Juntong and other senior brass.
The meeting discussed the military’s scope of authority in enforcing the emergency decree and its role in helping police keep order at night, according to a source. The military leaders were told to help monitor against more bomb attacks and warned to be careful when making public statements.
Defence Council meetings are usually held at the Defence Ministry, but as it has often been laid siege to by protesters yesterday’s meeting was moved.
Air Force chief Prajin said the caretaker prime minister could use the Air Force HQ as a meeting venue once in a while, but it would be inconvenient for the CMPO to use the office as its command centre because it is both an air base and an airport governed by many security rules.
There had been speculation that the CMPO would want to relocate from the Defence Ministry to the Air Force HQ after the protesters surrounded the ministry on Wednesday, forcing the CMPO to cancel its meeting.
Pol Maj-General Chanthawit Ramasut, the deputy commissioner of Metropolitan Police, said the police will set up 23 security checkpoints around the protest sites in Bangkok to prevent any smuggling in of weapons or violent incidents.
State of emergency measures
1. No gatherings of five or more people in areas marked out by the CMPO are allowed. People can only gather for legal demonstrations and elections. Actions inciting disorder are banned.
2. News reports and distribution of newspapers and other publications carrying distorted information or facts that might cause panic, affect peace and order or good morals are not allowed.
3. At the order of the CMPO chief, the use of public transport routes and vehicles for other purposes is prohibited.
4. The use of public buildings and areas, as well as entering specific places is prohibited under the orders of the CMPO chief.
— Phuket Gazette Editors