Newspaper article International New York Times

Thailand Reaffirms Elections for Feb. 2 ; Pressing Their Protests, Demonstrators Threaten to 'Shut Down' Bangkok

Newspaper article International New York Times

Thailand Reaffirms Elections for Feb. 2 ; Pressing Their Protests, Demonstrators Threaten to 'Shut Down' Bangkok

Article excerpt

The announcement on Friday appeared to be a significant victory for the departing government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thailand's election commission ignored the demands of antigovernment demonstrators on Friday and said elections scheduled for next month would go ahead despite continuing efforts to sabotage them.

The announcement appeared to be a significant victory for the departing government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which has vast support in northern provinces and is seemingly certain to win the elections.

Protesters, who say they are fighting to eradicate corruption and banish Ms. Yingluck and her clan from the country, have blocked candidate registration sites over the past week and clashed violently with the police, leaving two people dead. The protesters, who on some days have numbered well over 100,000 people, also say they are planning to "shut down" Bangkok this month by cutting power to government buildings and blocking major intersections.

Before Friday's announcement, at least one member of the election commission seemed sympathetic to the protesters' demands and was urging a delay in the election. But the commission's secretary general, Phuchong Nutawong, was unequivocal on Friday in saying that the election would take place as scheduled on Feb. 2 because "it is the law."

"We will hold elections," he said. "We can confirm this to you."

It was not immediately clear what prompted the change in tone from the commission. Although many prominent Thais have remained quiet amid the highly polarized and emotional standoff between the governing party and protesters, tourism industry officials have warned of mass cancelations because of the protests and some Bangkok residents have been angered at the prospect of traffic chaos.

Thai financial markets have also been affected by the unrest, with Reuters reporting Friday that stocks were 15 percent lower than since the start of November and that the baht was trading at just under 33 to the dollar, its weakest since February 2010.

In a video released on Thursday, a respected Thai Buddhist monk issued a plea to respect the election process.

"If we don't want our country to end up racked with violence, where force is used to obtain victory, we'd better choose elections as the solution," said the monk, Phra Paisal Visalo.

Phra Paisal said other countries with more substantive divisions, such as South Africa, had successfully used elections during difficult transitions. Thais should think of democracy as "less worse" than the alternatives, he said.

The protesters, who began their demonstrations two months ago, have been assisted by members of the Democrat Party, the country's oldest political party, which announced last month that it would boycott the elections. Candidate registration has proceeded smoothly in the whole country except for one area of Bangkok and in southern Thailand, the stronghold of the Democrat Party. …

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