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Tan Hui Yee
Monday, May 5, 2014

Asia

Thai election to be 'smoother this time'

The Straits Times | Tan Hui Yee | Monday, May 5, 2014

Mr Phongthep Thepkanjana is upbeat about the prospect of Thailand getting out of its political deadlock.

Thailand's July 20 election will be smoother than the disrupted one in February, declared a senior Cabinet member, despite protesters' vow to step up their campaign against the caretaker government.

The country could have a fully functioning Parliament by September, some 10 months after demonstrations first broke out in Bangkok's streets.

This scenario, if accurate, would be a welcome reprieve for ASEAN's second-largest economy, which has been limping along without a Lower House since it was dissolved on Dec 9.

Caretaker deputy premier Phongthep Thepkanjana, in an interview with The Straits Times yesterday, said he was confident that there would not be a repeat of the disruption that eventually led to the Constitutional Court's annulment of the Feb 2 election.

Back then, protesters trying to overcome the incumbent Puea Thai party's dominance physically blocked candidates from registering in 28 out of 375 constituencies, and also prevented ballot papers from reaching some districts. The court outlawed the polls on the basis that voting could not be held on the same day nationwide.

This time round, the Election Commission (EC) is prepared, said Mr Phongthep. Candidate registration will be done by mail if necessary.

"The EC has prepared a system for candidate registration which can guarantee that candidates can register their candidacy throughout the country," said the former judge. It has also devised new systems for the printing and delivery of ballot papers, as well as "two or three other back-up" plans.

Back in January, caretaker government officials and EC members traded barbs over the latter's seeming reluctance to overcome sabotage efforts. Yesterday, Mr Phongthep was conciliatory, saying the government would do all it could to support the EC's work.

He was upbeat about Thailand getting out of its political deadlock, because opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has recently been trying to persuade all sides in the conflict to accept his proposal to get Thailand out of the limbo.

The plan has not been made public yet, but Mr Phongthep said the Puea Thai-led caretaker government was ready to accept it.

"It is a plan that we had proposed, so we don't have any objection," he said, referring to similar reform proposals put forward by his administration months ago.

A key part in Mr Abhisit's proposed roadmap, Mr Phongthep said, involves collectively working out details of reforms and then committing the newly elected government to implementing them.

"What he proposed is reform after election," said Mr Phongthep, who added that the Democrat Party leader "understands" that a poll was necessary to give the government legislative power to implement reforms.

This issue was a major source of contention when protests first broke out last year, with the anti- government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) insisting on ousting the caretaker government to implement reforms under an appointed "people's assembly" before any election was held.

The Democrats boycotted the election while some of its Members of Parliament, including protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, resigned to lead the street protests.

The PDRC, led by Mr Suthep, has called for the eradication of the "Thaksin regime", in reference to self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - the brother of caretaker premier Yingluck Shinawatra - who is still seen to pull the strings in the country. On Wednesday, he declared the start of another major street campaign to oust the Yingluck government.

Mr Phongthep said Mr Abhisit's main task was to convince Mr Suthep to come on board.

Democrat Party spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said yesterday that the party will not contest the July 20 election if Mr Abhisit's proposal was rejected.

The new government, if put in place by September, will still face a three-month delay in approving the Budget for the coming fiscal year, said Mr Phongthep.

The new Budget Bill, originally expected to take effect in October, would come into effect only next year.

tanhy@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 3 in The Straits Times.

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