Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was under pressure on two fronts just days after the nation’s general election, as the main opposition party planned to petition a court to annul the vote and protesters vowed to expand demonstrations to pressure her to quit.
The Democrat Party, which boycotted the Feb. 2 poll, plans to file a petition to the Constitutional Court today, leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday. Voting was disrupted in more than 10 percent of districts nationwide, and the country’s Election Commission said results can’t be certified until by-elections are held in affected areas.
The delay means parliament can’t be convened for several months and Yingluck’s administration will remain in caretaker mode, restricting its ability to raise funds. Yingluck has already endured three months of street protests by anti-government groups in Bangkok, and now rice farmers are blocking highways in other parts of the country to pressure the government to make overdue payments under a state subsidy program that has cost $21 billion over the past two years.
“The elections are unconstitutional,” Abhisit said yesterday in a Bloomberg Television interview from Bangkok. “The Election Commission has admitted that they cannot hold free and fair elections according to the constitution.”
Voting went ahead in 83,669 of the nation’s 93,952 polling stations, including all 36 provinces in Yingluck’s strongholds in the north and northeast, according to the Election Commission. In the south, where the protest movement has its power base, polling was abandoned in nine provinces and partially canceled in nine others.
About 20.5 million people cast ballots on Feb. 2, or 46 percent of eligible voters, excluding the nine southern provinces where polls were canceled, Puchong Nutrawong, the commission’s secretary-general, said yesterday at a media briefing. In the 2011 election, turnout reached 75 percent.
Thailandâs Troubled Democracy
“The prime minister has to take that first step of admitting that these elections are getting us nowhere, that there needs to be talks, that there has to be postponement, that she may have to step aside so that people have the trust to have free and fair elections,” Abhisit said.
Global funds have pulled about $4.8 billion from Thai bonds and equities since the protests began Oct. 31, official data show. The baht weakened 5.8 percent in the same period against the dollar and the SET Index (SET) of stocks slid 10 percent.
Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat powerbroker who has led the street campaign to oust Yingluck, said the election will be annulled because his group successfully blocked candidates from registering in some provinces and shut down polling stations during advance voting. He asked supporters yesterday to maintain blockades of some of Bangkok’s busiest intersections and said he will lead rallies to Yingluck’s home and government ministries until she agrees to step down.
Suthep says he speaks for a “silent majority” who wants Yingluck replaced with an appointed council that would erase what they call her family’s corrupting political influence. Yingluck says such a council would be undemocratic and an affront to the almost 16 million people who elected her in 2011. Allies of Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, have won the past five elections, including two since he was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
The Democrats say elections aren’t fair because Thaksin and his allies bought the loyalty of poor voters while in power. They have criticized a government program to boost rural incomes by buying rice at above-market rates, which cost taxpayers $21 billion in the two crop years starting October 2011 and accumulated losses of 200 billion baht ($6.1 billion) a year, according to estimates from the World Bank.
The government had planned to turn to commercial banks to help raise money to pay farmers. That’s been put on hold amid public concern that depositors’ funds would be used, Permanent Secretary for Finance Rungson Sriworasat said yesterday.
“We don’t want to take the risk because we must protect shareholders,” Vorapak Tanyawong, head of state-controlled Krung Thai Bank Pcl, told reporters today, adding that it’s unclear whether the caretaker government has the power to borrow additional funds.
Yingluck says the popularity of her ruling Pheu Thai party is based on policies that have improved the lives of millions, particularly in the north and northeast. She is facing a probe into the rice program by the National Anti-Corruption Commission that could lead to impeachment.
The Democrats haven’t won a national poll since 1992, and previously boycotted a ballot in April 2006, when Thaksin was prime minister, on the grounds the political system needed reform. That vote was invalidated when a court found Thaksin’s party guilty of violating election laws. Thaksin was ousted before another election could be held.
Yingluck called the elections on Dec. 9, a day after the Democrats resigned from parliament to join their former colleagues in the protest movement, which began in disapproval of an amnesty bill that would have exonerated Thaksin, who has chosen to live overseas after fleeing a two-year jail term for corruption.
The premier canceled a Cabinet meeting scheduled for today and said she will work from the offices of the Permanent Secretary for Defense on Bangkok’s outskirts, which was targeted yesterday by protesters. If demonstrators picket the area today, they will be arrested, Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul told reporters.
“Menacing government buildings like this is wrong, and we can no longer allow it,” Surapong said. “Suthep should go home because he has committed many crimes. I want to tell them that it’s time to stop.”
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