Protesters disrupt voting in tense Thai polls
PROTESTERS blocked voting yesterday in dozens of constituencies in a Thai election that was overshadowed by pre-poll bloodshed, an opposition boycott and fears of protracted political limbo.
Despite weeks of mass street demonstrations aimed at forcing her from office, caretaker prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was widely expected to extend her billionaire family's decade-long winning streak at the ballot box.
But few expect the controversial polls to end the cycle of political violence that has plagued the kingdom since her elder brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as premier by royalist generals in 2006.
Tensions were running high after a dramatic gunbattle between rival protesters in the streets of the capital on the eve of the election that left at least seven people wounded.
But there were no reports of serious violence on election day by the time polls closed at 3pm.
About 10,000 out of nearly 94,000 polling stations were unable to open because of the demonstrators, who want Ms Yingluck to step down and make way for an unelected "people's council" to oversee reforms to tackle corruption and alleged vote-buying.
Voting went ahead in 89 per cent of the nation's 93,952 polling stations, Election Commission chairman Supachai Somcharoen said.
In many parts of the south, a stronghold of the anti-government movement, demonstrators stopped post offices from distributing ballot sheets and boxes, the Election Commission said.
In Bangkok, 488 out of 6,673 polling stations either could not open, or closed early, because of a blockade by protesters or a lack of staff, sparking minor scuffles between would-be voters and police in one district.
"I just want to vote," said Ms Praneet Tabtimtong, 57, clutching a large wooden club.
"They closed and did not bring the ballot boxes out," she added.
But in the pro-government north and north-east of Thailand, as well as some areas of the capital, voting went ahead without major disruption in a boost to Ms Yingluck's hopes of re-election.
"I did my duty today as I came to vote - it's my right," said Pui, 43, who cast his ballot at a polling station in the city's historic district where a handful of policemen watched over voters.
The results of the polls, which the main opposition Democrat Party boycotted, won't be certified until by-elections are held in dozens of districts where protesters blocked candidates from registering.
Further voting is already scheduled for Feb 23 after problems with advance balloting last Sunday, while polls in nine southern provinces where candidates were unable to register may not happen for weeks.
AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG