Thailand's constitutional court Friday nullified the Feb. 2 election won by supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra amid an opposition boycott, prolonging the country's 4-month-old political crisis and threatening a deeper toll on its tourism-dependent economy.
Opposition supporters celebrated the 6-3 court ruling that said the vote was invalid because not all polls were open to receive voters on the same day. Antigovernment protesters had blocked registration in 28 constituencies, forcing election workers to delay voting at the affected polls.
Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party rejected the ruling and vowed to take legal action against the protest leaders who obstructed the work of election commissioners, the government-run National News Bureau of Thailand reported.
The high court ordered that a new election be set but gave no time frame, leaving the country in the same political gridlock that has resulted from an opposition insisting on political reforms before the next election and the governing party wanting a new parliamentary mandate first.
Pheu Thai has won every national vote in Thailand for more than a decade and appears assured of continued victories because of its popularity with voters in the poor, agricultural areas of the country.
The urban elite in Thailand tend to support the Democratic Party, which is the driving force behind the People's Democratic Reform Committee, which is leading the protracted protests.
Opposition supporters in the capital took to the streets in November after the ruling party pushed through an amnesty bill that would have paved the way for a return to political life of deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother. The amnesty bill was withdrawn, but the protests have continued off and on to disrupt traffic and access to government ministries and services.
Opposition lawmakers resigned from parliament in December and Yingluck's government declared a state of emergency in January.
Bangkok police have been reluctant to forcibly disperse the demonstrators, raising concerns that a power vacuum is forming that could prompt a military coup. Thailand has had 18 coups or attempted coups since 1932.
The Bangkok Post, in an analysis of the court ruling's impact, quoted the head of the Finance Ministry's Fiscal Policy Office as warning that the scrapped Feb. 2 vote "is tantamount to getting back to square one" in resolving the disruptive political standoff.
Without a fully functional government, there is no 2015 budget in place, needed to begin paying bills in October, said the office's director-general, Somchai Sujjapongse.
Somchai said economists have slashed growth forecasts for this year from the 4.5% anticipated before the government crisis and remain concerned about the potential economic setbacks of continued unrest.
"The new election is unlikely to help patch up the conflict, as the PDRC has clearly stated it will disrupt any elections held before political reforms are enacted, while the Democrat Party, the key opposition party, has declared it will not join the race," said Somchai. "This could lead to the new elections being declared invalid again."