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Thai army to mobilise for elections

The Thai government said on Friday that it would ask the military to help protect candidates and voters in February elections following clashes between police and anti-government protesters that left two dead and scores wounded.

Police have been deployed in Bangkok amid clashes between police and anti-government protesters on December 27, 2013. Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters
Police have been deployed in Bangkok amid clashes between police and anti-government protesters on December 27, 2013. Athit Perawongmetha / Reuters

BANGKOK // The Thai government said on Friday it would ask the military to help protect candidates and voters in elections in February.

The request comes after clashes between police and anti-government protesters that left two dead and scores wounded.

The call for help from the powerful but heavily politicised military demonstrates that the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is determined that the election goes ahead. The vote is almost certain to return her Puea Thai Party to power.

Any delay to the polls could leave her embattled government and party exposed to an escalation of street protests and legal challenges that could leave the country in limbo.

Her government on Thursday rebuffed a request by the election commission to delay the February 2 vote until there was “mutual consent” from all sides – an increasingly unlikely outcome after Thursday’s deadly clashes at an election registration venue.

Facing each other are Ms Yingluck and her supporters among the rural poor in the populous north and north-east, and protesters from Bangkok’s middle class and elite who see her as a puppet of her brother, the former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.

The deputy prime minister, Surapong Tovichakchaikul, said yesterday he would ask military chiefs for help to secure candidate registrations today.

“We will also discuss together how to take care of safety for the people who will come to vote on February 2,” he said.

The military has remained neutral in the latest turmoil, apart from offering to act as a mediator, even though protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy premier, has sought to drag the military into the conflict, on to the anti-government side.

The military has staged or attempted 18 coups over the past 80 years, including the removal of Mr Thaksin in 2006.

But Thailand’s army chief on Friday urged both sides in the country’s bitter political dispute to show restraint, but did not explicitly rule out the possibility of a coup.

“That door is neither open nor closed,” said the army chief, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha. “Please don’t bring the army into the centre of this conflict.”

* Associated Press and Reuters