Thai court to decide on election complaint; protest march to test state of emergency
BANGKOK Jan 23 (Reuters) - Thailand's Constitutional Court said it would decide on Thursday whether to accept a case against holding Feb. 2 election that would almost certainly extend the government's shaky grip on power as protesters try to force it from office.
The government declared a 60-day state of emergency from Wednesday hoping to prevent an escalation in protests now in a third month. That decree will face a fresh test on Thursday when popular anti-government firebrand Suthep Thaugsuban leads a march through the capital Bangkok.
A leading pro-government activist was shot and wounded on Wednesday in Thailand's northeast, a stronghold of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in what police said was a political attack, adding to fears the violence could spread.
Nine people have died and dozens wounded in violence, including two grenade attacks in the capital last weekend.
The Election Commission, which has asked for a ruling on the election, argues that the country is in too volatile a state to sensibly hold a national vote and that technicalities mean it is bound to result in a parliament with too few MPs to form a quorum and approve a legitimate government.
"Around 1 p.m. (0600 GMT) today, the Court will decide whether the case would be accepted," Constitutional Court secretary-general Chaowana Trimas.
The government counters that the decree to hold the election on that date has been signed by the king and cannot be changed.
The opposition says it will boycott the vote. Suthep wants democracy suspended so that an appointed "people's council" can push through electoral and political changes.
A ruling in favour of the Election Commission would deepen Thailand's political quagmire, already weighing on investor enthusiasm for Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy.
The protests are the latest eruption in a political conflict that has gripped the country for eight years.
Broadly, it pits the Bangkok middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poorer supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was toppled by the military in 2006.
FEARS OF ELECTION DAY VIOLENCE
On Wednesday, an unidentified gunman opened fire on Kwanchai Praipana, a leader of Thailand's pro-government "red shirt" movement and a popular radio DJ.
The attack in Udon Thani, about 450 km (280 miles) northeast of Bangkok, was the most significant violence outside the Thai capital and illustrates the risk that the turbulence plaguing Bangkok could spread to other areas of Thailand.
Just a day before, he had warned of a nationwide fight if the military launched a coup, as widely feared.
Several governments have warned their nationals to avoid protest areas in Bangkok, among the world's most visited cities. China called on Thailand to "restore stability and order as soon as possible" through talks.
So far the military, which has been involved in 18 actual or attempted coups in the past 81 years, has kept out of the fray. Police are charged with enforcing the state of emergency and are under orders from Yingluck to handle protesters with patience.
The emergency decree gives security agencies powers to detain suspects, impose a curfew and limit gatherings but some analysts said it was in part designed to give Yingluck legal protection if police step in.