Pressure weighs on Yingluck

Even though caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is showing no signs of dismay in the face of the Bangkok "shutdown" campaign, her fresh attempt to engage all major players in talks to discuss the postponement of the Feb 2 general election suggests the government does not want to play the bully.

According to Suranand Vejjajiva, secretary-general to the prime minister, Ms Yingluck plans to invite those for and against the Feb 2 election to discuss on Wednesday the EC's recommendation to defer the polls.

Her invitation was also issued to the Constitution Court, the Administrative Court, the Office of the Auditor-General and the Office of the Attorney-General.

Ms Yingluck's latest move suggests the government is taking a softer stance. Earlier, she had been adamant the government had no power to postpone the elections despite recommendations from many quarters.

The Pheu Thai Party had a plan to counter the People's Democratic Reform Committee's (PDRC) city shutdown. It instructed its election candidates in all constituencies, especially in the northern and northeastern provinces, to mobilise at least 5,000 people per constituency to join a rally to counter the shutdown and support elections.

The Pheu Thai leaders hoped the counter-campaign would represent "those who think and want differently" to the PDRC supporters.

However, as it turned out, the government and Pheu Thai have been unable to hide their fears after only 20,000 people in the three provinces of Ubon Ratchathani, Amnat Charoen and Yasothon turned up for the counter rally.

The party won a total of 30 seats in the three northeastern provinces in the previous election.

Pheu Thai reportedly had to ask its red-shirt allies to help mobilise the people but they only managed to draw 500 people per constituency.

The pro-election rally in front of the Ubon Ratchathani provincial hall yesterday was close to a flop.

The crowd dispersed quickly and only a few election candidates appeared on stage.

Several provinces in the Northeast, which red-shirt leaders regard as their strongholds, organised just a few or zero activities to promote the Feb 2 election. Those which did performed badly.

Khon Kaen saw only 5,000 people despite the fact the party won 10 seats there in the previous election. Chiang Mai, the hometown of Ms Yingluck and the stronghold of Pheu Thai, did not perform any better.

The run-up to the Feb 2 election is currently proceeding with little activity. Core red-shirt leaders like Nattawut Saikuar and Jatuporn Prompan went on a tour of the North and the Northeast but failed to drum up support for the polls.

The candidates themselves seem to be lacking interest in running in the election campaign.

Yaowapa Wongsawat, elder sister of Ms Yingluck and a powerful figure in Pheu Thai, is not calling any of the shots, which is entirely out of character for her.

These candidates have other priorities. Almost 300 former party MPs have been called by the Constitution Court to testify in a case involving the charter amendment on international treaties by Thursday.

This group has also been called to defend themselves before the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) over their role in voting to pass the charter amendment involving the make-up of the Senate on Jan 17.

"We are hit [by cases] one after another. We don't have the heart to go out and ask for votes. There seems to be no future," a former MP told the Bangkok Post.

Ms Yingluck seems to be facing a tougher time too, as the NACC is set to make a decision on alleged irregularities in the rice-pledging scheme within this month, he noted. "The candidates aren't directly affected by the Bangkok shutdown. But the prime minister may not be able to maintain her political leadership," the ex-MP said. "If the 'people's uprising' can't make her go, an independent agency might."

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