Thailand’s main opposition party petitioned a court on Tuesday to annul last weekend’s national election, launching a legal challenge that could prolong the deeply divided country’s political paralysis.
The Democrat Party’s petition to the Constitutional Court also urges the dissolution of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling party, which called Sunday’s elections in a bid to defuse anti-government protests that started three months ago.
Wiratana Kalayasiri, a former opposition lawmaker and head of the Democrat Party’s legal team, said the petition argues the polls violated the constitution on several grounds, including that they were not completed in one day.
Critics call the Democrats’ argument counterintuitive, saying the reason the election could not be finished in one day is because anti-government protesters backed by the party sabotaged the vote.
The Democrat Party boycotted the election, and the protesters aligned with it forced the closure of hundreds of polling stations in Bangkok and the south, preventing millions of people from voting.
As a result, a series of special elections are required to complete the balloting. Election results cannot be announced until all areas have successfully voted.
“This election has violated the constitution on several counts, but mainly it was not a fair one,” Mr. Wiratana said. “The election was not held on the same day... that is why we are seeking to nullify it.”
Despite fears of violence, the voting proceeded peacefully in 90 percent of polling stations.
The struggle to hold the balloting was part of a 3-month-old conflict that has split the country between supporters of Ms. Yingluck and opponents, who allege her government is too corrupt to rule, and that she is a puppet of her brother, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire businessman who is the most divisive figure in modern Thai history, fled into exile to avoid a corruption conviction after being deposed in a 2006 military coup.
The demonstrators have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and forced government ministries to shut down and work elsewhere.
The protesters are demanding the elected government be replaced by an unelected “people’s council” to enact reforms ahead of new elections and remove the Shinawatra family’s influence from politics.
Ms. Yingluck has refused to step down, arguing she was elected by a large majority and is open to reform, but that such a council would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.
China cancels rice deal with Thailand
Meanwhile, China cancelled a deal to buy more than a million tonnes of rice from Thailand due to a probe into the Thai government’s subsidies for rice growers.
Thai Commerce Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan said on Tuesday that a Chinese state company terminated a contract to buy 1.2 million tonnes of rice.
The rice scheme is a flagship policy of Ms. Yingluck’s embattled caretaker government.
Critics say the policy of buying rice from growers at above market prices has accumulated losses of at least $4.46 billion and has been dogged by corruption.
Thousands of farmers have blocked main roads in the provinces to demand overdue payments from the government.
Indian to be deported for leading protests
The Thai government on Tuesday ordered the deportation of an Indian businessman for leading a group of protesters in a business district in Bankok demanding the ouster of Ms. Yingluck .
Satish Sehgal, chairman of the Thai-Indian Business Association, was ordered to be deported by Thailand’s Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order (CMPO), which is overseeing the government’s response to protests, according to Thai news agency MCOT.
The CMPO directed immigration authorities and police to start procedures to deport Sehgal, who has been living in Bangkok for decades and holds an Indian passport, for leading anti-government protests and defying a state of emergency.
Mr. Sehgal was a core member of the protests aimed at ousting Ms. Yingluck.
Authorities had warned last month that action would be taken against five non-Thai protesters for their active role in demonstrations led by former Democrat lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban.
Last month, Sehgal led a group of protesters in Bangkok’s business district and called for the elected government to quit. He also publicly criticised the government and showed his strong affiliation to the opposition Democrat Party.
Thailand has a sizable population of ethnic Indian businessmen who have largely remained focused on increasing their business presence.