Thai vote goes smoothly as protesters regroup near Bangkok lakes
Monday, 3 March 2014 00:33
REUTERS: Thailand held re-run elections in five provinces where voting was disrupted in last month’s poll by anti-government protesters who decamped from a main Bangkok intersection on Sunday and moved inside a central park.
There were no reports of violence at Sunday’s vote, although gunfire and at least two explosions had raised tension in Bangkok before the original 2 February general election.
Whatever the result, the vote alone cannot restore stability in a deeply polarised country popular with tourists and investors yet blighted by eight years of political turmoil.
The protesters, seeking to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, gathered in central Lumpini Park, where hundreds already sleep in tents alongside boating lakes and under trees, after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said they would abandon other sites in the city.
Anti-government posters saying “Get out!” and “Stop cheating farmers!”, a reference to a failed rice subsidy scheme, blew in the dust past abandoned Suthep cutouts as traffic began to ease its way through the intersection on the edge of the Silom financial district.
Another protest site was dismantled, with stages, huge screens, giant speakers and amplifiers, tents, stalls and mobile toilets cleared away overnight, but the elevated highway along the south side of Lumpini Park was still blocked by tyres and sandbags.
Voting was disrupted on 2 February in 18% of constituencies, 69 out of 375, nationwide, the Election Commission said, affecting 18 of 77 provinces.
Election re-runs planned for April in other provinces have been suspended pending a court decision on procedures.
Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said voting had gone ahead peacefully. About 20 protesters blew whistles at a polling station in Petchburi province, southwest of the capital, but did nothing to block voting.
“They came to show symbolic protest and they have already gone,” he said, not giving details of voter turnout. “Generally, polls are running smoothly.”
The demonstrators, who have blocked intersections in the capital for weeks, say Yingluck must resign and make way for an appointed “people’s council” to overhaul a political system they say has been taken hostage by her billionaire brother and former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra.
The election is almost certain to return Yingluck to power, thanks to her support base in the largely rural north and northeast, a result the opposition will never accept.
The protracted crisis pits the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of the Shinawatra family.
Suthep, who has proposed talks with Yingluck, did not mention the voting in an address at the new stage at Lumpini, but said he was confident the Government will want to negotiate while he continues to attack businesses of the Shinawatra family, a tactic introduced last month.