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Ombudsman Rejects Petition to Nullify Thailand’s General Election



Thai district official inspects ballot boxes

BANGKOK — A petition to nullify Thailand’s general election was rejected Friday on procedural grounds by the country’s ombudsman, a setback for the opposition Democrat Party, which is allied with protesters trying to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Mrs. Panit Nitithanprapas
Chief Ombudsman

A related petition that the Democrat Party filed to the country’s Constitutional Court was still pending, however, and the fate of the Feb. 2 election remained uncertain after protesters blocked registration and voting in Bangkok and southern Thailand.

Days after the election, there are contradictory signals about which side has the upper hand in Thailand’s debilitating power struggle.

The Yingluck government has been weakened by its inability to pay farmers as part of a failed rice subsidy policy, which the opposition says is emblematic of the governing party’s wasteful populist policies. On Thursday, a prominent aristocrat who took part in the military-installed government after the 2006 coup called on Ms. Yingluck to step down, something that the government says is impossible until a new government is formed.

The Election Commission has yet to announce a detailed plan for the completion of the election.

There are also signs of weakness in the protest movement, which in recent weeks tried and failed to “shut down” Bangkok. The evolution of the movement from an anticorruption crusade to a group that is aggressively blocking elections has sidelined some erstwhile supporters. A gun battle on the eve of elections — in which gunmen allied with the protesters shot at would-be voters — has blunted the protest leaders’ message that they are peaceful and unarmed. Government supporters have sought to capitalize on that incident, which has spawned a catchphrase: “We wanted ballots but we got bullets.”

Prof.Siracha Charoenpanij

Protesters are still blocking a number of key intersections in Bangkok, but they have retreated from other areas, and attendance at the protests appears to be waning, especially during the day.

With both sides weakened, the power struggle increasingly resembles a war of attrition, one that business executives warn could have severe effects on the economy.

Thais have been reading the political tea leaves, looking for signals from the country’s most powerful institutions; the monarchy, military and courts among them.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the army, said this week that he would not do anything “beyond the limits,” a statement that the Thai media interpreted to mean that he would not stage a coup. But the army chief added: “I would rather not say whether I approve of the election.”

Signals from the courts have been mixed during the crisis. But after having refused several times to issue arrest warrants for the protest leaders, a court this week approved warrants for 19 of them for violating emergency rule declared last month. A prosecutor also rejected a request by lawyers for Suthep Thaugsuban, the main protest leader, for a postponement of proceedings on murder charges that he faces for ordering the use of live ammunition against protesters when he was in power in 2010. Dozens of people were killed during the crackdown.

One of the most striking commentaries on the crisis in recent days was offered by Veerapong Ramangura, an economist who has served many governments, including the present one and those installed after military coups.

Mr. Veerapong, who rarely appears on television, lashed out at the protest movement during an hourlong interview, calling the leaders’ plans “nonsensical.” Without mentioning names, Mr. Veerapong said that there had been “an agreement to stage a coup d’état” and install a former general as leader, but that the plan had been scrapped because the head of the army had refused to go ahead with it.

“The protest leaders are now stuck,” he said. “They don’t know how to back out of this.”

The comments were especially notable because Mr. Veerapong has worked closely with the military and other establishment figures over the years, and because, while he has advised the current government, he has also been sharply critical of it, especially its management of the rice subsidy program.

Mr. Veerapong said that he believed some judges and members of state agencies were now hoping to remove the government and install their own government.

“It’s not doable because these organizations cannot tear up the Constitution,” he said.

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