Thailand poll without pre-election buzz

February 01, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

Anti-government protesters cheer during the Bangkok Shutdown rally at a protest site camp outside MBK shopping centre in Bangkok yesterday.

BANGKOK:   Thailand goes to the polls tomorrow, but the usual pre-election buzz, banners and loud-hailers on the backs of trucks are noticeable by their absence in the capital, Bangkok.

Anti-government protesters have blocked major intersections and flyovers for weeks, setting up camps in neat rows of tents. 

They have boycotted the election and vowed to disrupt the voting, prompting a huge security operation involving thousands of police and troops. 

Election preparations are under way, but the casual observer has to look hard for clues.

At a polling station at a school in the Don Muang district in north Bangkok, the only evidence is a signboard listing the candidates, propped up against the wall under a staircase.

Outside the district office, a sign says “Your voice = the power of democracy. Move forward with the election and reform together on February 2, 2014.”

But that call has been lost on the protesters who want their own reform of the political landscape, setting up a “people’s council” to run the country after bringing down Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ten people have been killed and at least 577 wounded in politically related violence since the end of November and many voters fear tomorrow’s vote will end in bloodshed.

“The government must take responsibility if police can’t control the situation and violence breaks out,” Election Commission official Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said.

The commission has said the vote should be postponed warning that the situation is too volatile.

A protest leader was killed and about a dozen people were wounded in a clash near a polling station during advance voting, for those who can’t vote tomorrow, at the weekend.

Commission head Puchong Nutrawong said polling stations in 49 of Bangkok’s 50 districts were forced shut. “If we look at the overall picture, the problem is in Bangkok and in the 15 southern provinces,” he said.

Labour Minister Chalerm Yoombamrung, in charge of a state of emergency, urged the protesters not to disrupt the vote, warning that people would “beat each other to a pulp.”

During a visit to a Buddhist temple in Don Muang, businessman Suwit Sakhajorn, 32, said people were too scared to put up election posters.

“We are afraid of bombs,” he said. “But we will have to leave security to the police.”

Prasai Wanta, 30, a teacher at the school polling station, said he would vote because that was his right. “But we will have to monitor the situation closely,” he said.

Election officials in Don Muang, where residents largely voted for the government’s ruling Puea Thai Party in the 2011 election, said they would start setting up booths at 5am tomorrow with 10 officials and one policeman overseeing each of the constituency’s 199 booths.                 Reuters

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