Thai court nullifies country's election results

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The Constitutional Court today annulled Thailand's 2 April parliamentary election and ordered fresh polls in a bid to end the country's months-long political crisis, a court official said.

The court's 14 judges voted 8 to 6 to invalidate the polls based on a lawsuit alleging that the elections were unconstitutional, said a court official ahead of a news conference to formally announce the decision.

In a separate vote, the court ruled 9 to 5 in favour of holding new elections, the official said. A date was not immediately set.

The widely expected ruling came after the nation's revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, sternly suggested last month that the top courts find a way out of what he called the country's political "mess."

Outgoing Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called last month's elections three years ahead of schedule to defuse anti-government street protests and growing calls for his resignation.

But public anger continued, with an opposition boycott of the elections and hundreds of legal complaints alleging that the vote was undemocratic and unconstitutional.

The verdict today involved a case brought by academics that argued the election was scheduled too hastily after Thaksin dissolved Parliament, not giving all parties proper preparation time, and that the positioning of ballot booths compromised voter privacy.

The Constitutional Court's ruling was expected to put an end to a flurry of legal activity that had saddled two of the country's high courts with hundreds of lawsuits filed against the elections.

The Administrative Court - which adjudicates disputes involving state agencies - was examining a complaint lodged by another group of academics against the Election Commission and had said it would rule May 16. A ruling was still expected as a formality.

Street protests started earlier this year, with critics accusing Thaksin of widespread corruption and abuse of power. He was also blamed for mishandling a Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand and stifling the country's once vibrant media.

To calm dissent and win a fresh mandate, Thaksin dissolved Parliament in February and called snap polls. His Thai Rak Thai party won 57% of the vote, but millions of Thais cast protest votes and the opposition boycott left the lower house without the full 500 MPs required for Parliament to convene.

Days after the election, Thaksin announced he was taking "a break" from politics to restore national unity and passed his duties to his deputy, Chitchai Wannasathit.

Opposition parties favoured annulling the April 2 results, and have said they would lift their boycott and participate in a fresh round of elections to end the country's drawn-out political drama.