Thai government, poll body agree on July 20 vote

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Photo - Pheu Thai party leader Yingluck Shinawatra casts her vote in a general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014.(AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Pheu Thai party leader Yingluck Shinawatra casts her vote in a general election at a polling station in Bangkok, Thailand, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014.(AP Photo/Wally Santana)
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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's government and election authorities agreed Wednesday to hold a new general election on July 20 in an attempt to end the country's political stalemate.

The state Election Commission announced the date after meeting with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other members of her Cabinet. The commission will meet May 6 to draft an election decree for the government to submit to King Bhumibol Adulyadej for his pro-forma endorsement.

Thailand held a general election on Feb. 2 after Yingluck dissolved Parliament's lower house in response to protests calling on her to step down. The Constitutional Court nullified the election on March 21 because it failed to meet legal requirements after the protesters disrupted the registration process and voting.

The protesters say they want Yingluck to step down to allow an interim non-elected government to implement anti-corruption reforms and remove her family's influence from politics. They have insisted that they will not accept new elections before reforms are instituted.

The protest group, the People's Democratic Reform Committee, had no immediate response to Wednesday's announcement.

Yingluck said on her Facebook page before Wednesday's meeting: "I truly hope the country will be set free from the conflict and that every side can talk peacefully, as well as can hold an election under a constitutional framework, in order to have a government that is truly wanted by the people soon."

Thailand has been plagued by political strife since a 2006 military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, after demonstrators accused him of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the king. More than 20 people have been killed and hundreds wounded in political violence over the past six months.

This past week has seen new efforts to break the deadlock, with the head of the opposition Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, calling for compromise.

Abhisit has held a series of high-profile meetings with the Election Commission, military leaders, civil servants and politicians to propose ideas he said could defuse the crisis, although he has not revealed what the suggestions were. The Democrats have close links to the protest movement.

Reflecting uncertainty about the prospects for new polls, Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said the government agreed that if unforeseeable circumstances arise, it will issue another decree to amend the election date.

The caretaker government led by Yingluck's Pheu Thai party has run the country with limited powers since the lower house was dissolved in December in an attempt to renew the government's mandate in the face of the protests.

The February polls were obstructed mainly in Bangkok and southern provinces, with protesters blocking and intimidating candidates from registering, preventing ballots from reaching polling stations and keeping voters from casting their votes. The protesters have also battled with police and occupied government offices.

The Constitutional Court ruled the election invalid, citing an article saying elections must be carried out nationwide on the same day. The polls' legitimacy was further eroded by a boycott by the Democrats.

Even if new polls are held as scheduled, there is a strong possibility that Yingluck may not be able to keep her position as head of government because she faces several court cases that could force her out.

Yingluck's opponents hope that in such a situation, a failure to form a new government will spark a constitutional crisis, allowing them to invoke vaguely defined clauses in the constitution and have an unelected prime minister installed.

But there also are fears that Yingluck's supporters would not peacefully accept such a situation, termed by many a "judicial coup," since they see courts and independent state agencies as being biased against her family's political machine.

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Associated Press writer Grant Peck contributed to this report.

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