01/15/2014, 00.00
THAILAND
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Government in Bangkok pushes for vote as demonstrators are attacked over night

Whilst calling for dialogue, the government reiterates its plan to hold an election on 2 February. The opposition rejects calls for talks. Gunfire slightly injures two protesters. Source talks to AsiaNews about stand off and mutual recriminations, stressing the need for constitutional reform to modernise the country.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - The Thai government reiterated its intention to hold an election on 2 February as previously announced, this despite the opposition's call for a "final showdown" and its attempt to shut down Bangkok, which began on Monday.

In the past few hours, two violent incidents have been reported. In one, two protesters suffered minor injuries from gunfire and were released from hospital in the early morning. In the other, an explosive device (a hand-made bomb or a big firecracker) went off near one of the homes of former Prime Minister and Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Anti-government protesters, led by Suthep Thaugsuban, have been in the streets for the past two months trying to force the government to resign.

Backed by the capital's financial and economic elites, protest leaders have been demanding the establishment of a "people's council" to start reforms to rid the country of the influence of the "Thaksin regime".

They want the Shinawatras out, first Thaksin and then his sister Yingluck, the current prime minister, despite the fact that they have won elections in the past ten years thanks to the support of the urban poor and rural north, a success their critics claim was built on vote trading and corruption.

As the fear of violence grows, government and opposition accuse each other of provocations.

Prime Minister Yingluck renewed her vow to maintain "political stability" in order to protect the economy whilst "preserving democracy".

In Bangkok, a government source, anonymous for security reasons, told AsiaNews that a cloud hangs over the election because of irregular voter registration. If this were the case, the election could be scrapped, thus wasting "billions of baht."

At the core of the problem is a power struggle between the opposition, which has failed to "take over through the ballot box," and the prime minister and her government, who "have made mistakes in the past few months" trying to ram through "an amnesty that would allow Thaksin to return home" and overturn his past trials and convictions.

The country's political system is the crux of the matter. The current constitution was drafted by the military and falls far short of a real balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, and, behind the scenes, the military.

For the source, Suthep needs the military because "if elections were held, he would lose." With violence escalating, the military "would have the pretext" to intervene.

So far though, clashes have not yet degenerated. And what happens in coming days must be taken into consideration.

The ongoing confrontation could lead to an "interesting experiment in democracy" if the various factions were able to "discuss and reform the country" without resorting to violence.

Indeed, in addition to supporters of the different factions, the ongoing conflict has attracted the interest of scholars, academics and everyone who wants to reform the constitution.

"Although the chance for talks between government and opposition appears slim, this could be a turning point in Thailand," the source said.

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