BANGKOK—Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government won a key victory Wednesday in the uphill struggle to form a new administration when the Constitutional Court rejected a bid by the opposition to annul the Feb. 2 election.
The ruling clears the way to hold new polls in districts that were unable to vote because of disruption by opposition boycotts and protests. The independent Election Commission has set makeup voting to be held on April 20 and April 27 in those districts. However, the commission has yet to seek a way to hold voting for 28 electoral districts that haven’t even been able to even register candidates because of opposition protests—the scenario that has left the country short of the 95% threshold of the total 500 seats required to seat a new Parliament.
The opposition Democrat Party’s application to the court had maintained, among other things, that the election poll wasn’t constitutional because voting wasn’t conducted nationwide on the same day. The chief of the Democrat Party’s legal team, Wiratana Kalayasri, said that he “respects the court’s opinion” but said that he would petition the court again “should the government make any more mistakes.”
The court said in a statement that it found no grounds to show the Feb. 2 poll could be violating the Constitution. However, Ms. Yingluck and her government still face a series of legal challenges, including an impeachment case against the embattled prime minister, for allegedly neglecting to prevent massive state losses in a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy that has benefited poor farmers. Ms. Yingluck headed up the rice-policy committee but has said that she delegated many tasks to ministers. Since the implementation of the rice program in October 2011, the government has been buying rice from Thai farmers at up to 50% above the market rate and withholding it from the world market in hopes of driving up global prices.
The independent Election Commission reported last week that balloting was disrupted in 11% of electoral districts, mostly in Bangkok and southern Thailand strongholds of the Democrats. Nearly 48 of eligible voters cast ballots in 68 provinces where voting was held, while only a quarter of eligible voters did so in the Thai capital, where demonstrations against Ms. Yingluck’s government have been held for months.
Street demonstrations, led by a former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who resigned from the Democrats to lead the protests, have continued since November in an attempt to force Ms. Yingluck to leave office. The protesters want an unelected to council to run Thailand and reform the political system before elections are held.
Thailand’s politics have grown increasingly polarized over the past dozen years since Ms. Yingluck’s family started to exercise power on the back of populist policies that have built an election-winning base among poor Thais in the populous north and northeast. Her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed as premier in a military coup in 2006. He lives in exile to avoid arrest on a conviction for corruption that he says was politically motivated.
Ms. Yingluck dissolved the House of Representatives in December before calling a snap poll to reassert her mandate in the face of the protests, which have the fervent support of many middle-class residents of Bangkok who deeply oppose the Shinawatras. The election has been widely expected to return her Pheu Thai Party to office, though the Election Commission has said it won’t release results until voting is carried out in the disrupted districts.