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New Thai election may be delayed until October

Written by: Staff
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By Trirat Puttajanyawong BANGKOK, May 15 (Reuters) Thailand, in a deep political and constitutional crisis after an inconclusive April snap general election was declared unlawful, may have to wait until October for a re-run, an election commissioner said today.

A meeting between the Election Commission (EC) and 19 parties produced four dates between July 16 and October 22 for the government to choose from, Prinya Nakchatree said.

But the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, three weeks after revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej told the top courts to help end political ''mess'' quickly, was silent about its preferred date.

''We will play by the rules. Whatever is agreed, we will follow,'' Thaksin told reporters, ahead of a meeting to plan celebrations for the king's 60th anniversary on the throne in June.

But his party said Thailand could not afford to wait until October for an election to produce a new government after Thaksin's abortive April effort to counter a street campaign by foes accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.

''Setting a date for a new general election too distant will have an impact on the government's planned infrastructure projects,'' deputy leader Sora-at Klinpratoom told reporters, referring to a 43 billion dollar plan now on hold.

But cabinet ministers said the government would agree to any option that would bring all parties back to the poll.

The Democrats, one of three main opposition parties whose boycott of the April 2 poll left parliament with seats unfilled and unable to convene, also said it would accept any date.

But it wants the current Election Commission, which it accuses of bias towards Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, replaced first.

''Any day is fine by us,'' spokesman Ong-Ard Klampaiboon said.

''We don't accept the legitimacy of the current EC, but we will have to run to heed His Majesty's remarks.'' SWITCHING PARTIES The commission wants a later date to allow politicians who want to change parties meet the constitution requirement that they must do so at least 90 days before registration of election candidates close.

Thaksin's representatives did not propose a date, but 12 of the 18 little known parties wanted the new poll to be held on October 22 while four parties wanted it on July 16, Prinya said.

''Let's consider these suggestions if we want to unlock the 90-day requirement,'' Prinya said.

''Just quit tomorrow,'' he told politicians wanting to switch parties after disgruntled Thai Rak Thai members were forced to stay with the party because Thaksin left fewer than 90 days between calling the election and the final date of registration.

The 90-day period was created to stop party-hopping which undermined the stability of governments. If it were eased, Thai Rak Thai (TRT) was likely to win fewer seats, analysts said.

The meeting of the Election Commission, which is under pressure to quit, came a week after the Constitutional Court ruled the April 2 election unconstitutional and ordered a rerun.

The three top courts promised last week to supervise a free and fair new election and suggested all four commissioners resign to pave way for a new panel.

But the EC has shrugged off the call, saying it did nothing wrong.

REUTERS AK BST1324

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