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Crisis-hit Thailand heads for new elections

Wednesday, Apr 30, 2014

BANGKOK - Thailand on Wednesday set new elections for July 20 to try to end a deadly six-month political crisis, even as legal challenges threaten to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra out of office.

The nation, riven by years of political unrest, has been without a properly functioning government since December, causing policy paralysis that has sapped the strength of its once-buoyant economy.

Yingluck is pinning her hopes on re-election to shore up her legitimacy following months of mass street protests seeking her resignation to make way for an unelected "neutral" prime minister to implement anti-corruption reforms.

A general election in February was voided after demonstrators disrupted voting.

The backdrop is an eight-year struggle between a royalist establishment - backed by parts of the judiciary and the military - and Yingluck's billionaire family, which has traditionally enjoyed strong support in northern Thailand.

Twenty-five people have been killed and hundreds wounded, including many anti-government protesters, in grenade attacks and shootings in recent months.

Whether Yingluck's name will be on the ballot papers on July 20 remains unclear as she faces two legal cases that could see her suspended from office and banned from politics within weeks.

The Election Commission (EC), which agreed on the July 20 poll date in talks with Yingluck on Wednesday, has been accused by government supporters of siding with the opposition.

Observers also noted that the voting date left plenty of time for the legal proceedings to be wrapped up first.

"The intention of the EC is not aimed at having an election anyway," said Puangthong Pawakapan, professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"I think something will happen that will force Yingluck to stop performing her duties" before the vote, she said.

Opposition upset

The opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the February poll, voiced dismay that the election date had been announced while its leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was seeking support for his own plan to end the deadlock.

"It's very disappointing that all of a sudden Prime Minister Yingluck fixed the election day while earlier she agreed to meet with Abhisit to find a solution for our country," said party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut.

Abhisit has not yet revealed his blueprint for ending the standoff but he has previously backed the protesters' calls for vaguely defined reforms before elections.

 

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