BANGKOK Jan 23 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.