A frustrated Thai voter holds her national identification card and shouts at police blocking the entrance to a polling station as voting was cancelled after anti-government protesters prevented the delivery of election materials in Bangkok yesterday.
BANGKOK: Tens of thousands of Thais were unable to cast their ballots yesterday after anti-government protesters blockaded roads and commandeered polling booths in what has become an increasingly tense political standoff.
Although the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is highly likely to be re-elected — as her party, or versions of it, has won every election since 2001 — thousands of Thais have boycotted the vote in protest and thousands more have been prevented by protesters from casting their ballots.
About 130,000 police officers were deployed in an effort to boost security during voting after pro- and anti-government demonstrators clashed in northern Bangkok on Saturday, when at least seven people were injured after a gun attack near a ballot-storage office. At least 10 people have been killed and almost 600 more injured since protests began in November.
“Today is an important day,” said Yingluck as she cast her vote early on Sunday. “I would like to invite Thai people to come out and vote to uphold democracy.”
Anti-government demonstrators vowed to continue their fight against the so-called “Thaksin regime” until Yingluck stepped down voluntarily or by force.
Protesters claim Yingluck Shinawatra’s government is controlled by her brother, Thaksin, who was ousted as prime minister in a military coup in 2006 and now lives in Dubai to avoid corruption charges he claims are politically motivated.
They also argue that democracy means more than just casting a ballot and have called for reforms before elections.
“If we vote today we will lose our nation, because we will legitimise Yingluck’s government,” said Kruawan Noonchuen, 51, a rubber plantation owner from the southern province of Surat Thani, as she picnicked in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park. She had been camping along with several hundred others in the park near a protest rally.
“If Yingluck doesn’t resign, I will stay here until she does. I will only vote if the Shinawatra government is no longer controlling the country,” she said.
Yesterday’s snap election was intended to bring some sense of political calm to Thailand. Demonstrators want to see Yingluck replaced by an unelected “people’s council”, which they claim would be tasked with reforming the nation’s current “dirty politics” system.
It is unclear how many of Thailand’s 49 million eligible voters headed to the polls, which were boycotted by the opposition Democrat party. Supporters of the protest umbrella group People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) did likewise or prevent pro-government voters from voting.
About 6 million registered voters across Thailand were affected by the closed polling stations, according to the country’s electoral commission.
Almost 500 of Bangkok’s 6,671 polling booths were closed and people in nine provinces in the south were also unable to cast their votes. Anti-government demonstrators blocked the delivery of ballot boxes, blockaded roads and stood “guard” at polling station in pro-government districts to prevent voting, although in the rest of the country, voting was largely peaceful and without problems.
At Din Daeng polling station in north Bangkok, anti-government demonstrators set up barricades to prevent “red shirts” (government supporters) from casting their votes. Officials decided to close the polling booth after an altercation between the two sides and a gunshot was heard.
A thin line of police stood guard at the office doors but were swept aside by voters who rushed through the building looking for the ballot boxes.
“This situation is ridiculous,” shouted Lek Saksaphrapha, 52, as she complained to the handful of bewildered-looking police that she had the right to vote. “Why didn’t anyone figure out how to deal with this before the day of the election? The Election Commission should let us vote to see who will win and who will lose. The country cannot go on like this.” Although roughly 89 percent of Thailand’s polling booths saw no disruption, the vote will be unlikely to lead to any clear resolution to the political quagmire.
Official results will not be ready until all districts have been able to vote, and some reruns have already been rescheduled for late February after last week’s advanced voting in which roughly two million people were prevent from casting their ballot.
Because anti-government demonstrators blocked candidate registration in 28 southern provinces, parliament will not have enough representatives to form a quorum what ever the final outcome of the poll. This means Yingluck — should she be reinstated — will only have provisional, caretaker capabilities until those areas able to hold a vote.
It also makes it likely that the political instability will continue for months to come, because the constituencies needing to fill those seats support the Democrat party and current anti-government movement.
“The Democrats have been losing elections for the last 20 years — that’s why they didn’t want the election to happen,” said Somkhit Aramphibunkit, 59, as she looked at her locked-up polling booth in north Bangkok. “If they were to join in these polls, they would just lose again.” The Guardian