Thai protesters fuel tensions by blocking voters
Yingluck expected to win again, but disruptions mean it will take weeks to confirm the results
Agence France-Presse in Bangkok
Watch: Protesters disrupt voting in Thai election
Opposition protesters blocked voting at thousands of polling stations in Thailand yesterday, triggering angry scenes in the capital over an election that plunged the strife-racked kingdom into political limbo.
Despite weeks of mass street demonstrations aimed at forcing her from office, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was widely expected to extend her billionaire family's decade-long winning streak at the ballot box.
But widespread disruption to voting meant that the results were not expected for weeks at least. And few believe the polls will end the political turmoil that has plagued the kingdom since her elder brother, Thaksin, was ousted as premier in a military coup in 2006.
Watch: PM Yingluck Shinawatra votes in Thai election
Yingluck's opponents say she is a mere puppet for the ousted leader, a hugely controversial figure who lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.
The main opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the vote, said it was gathering legal evidence to seek an annulment of the election.
About 10,000 out of nearly 94,000 polling stations were unable to open, according to the Election Commission, affecting millions of people, although it was unclear how many had planned to vote.
An angry crowd gathered outside one voting centre in the Bangkok district of Din Daeng, holding their ID cards in the air and chanting "Vote! Vote!", before storming inside. They later filed complaints with police.
"I came to vote, but they have denied my rights," said Praneet Tabtimtong, 57. "I am begging them to let me vote."
The disruption means that even if Yingluck wins she will remain in a caretaker role with limited power over government policy until elections are held in the troubled areas, because there will not be enough MPs to convene parliament.
"Normally even if one polling station is blocked we cannot announce the result," said Election Commission member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn.
"As long as there are protests and no negotiation, then parliament cannot open."
Experts say a protracted period of political uncertainty and possible street violence could set the scene for a military or judicial coup. The army chief has repeatedly refused to rule out seizing power, while Yingluck is under investigation by an anti-corruption panel.
The protesters have vowed to keep up their fight to topple Yingluck, whatever the outcome of the polls. They want her to make way for an unelected "people's council" to oversee reforms.
"The winners will not represent the Thai people," rally leader Suthep Thaugsuban told supporters. "The winners must be Thaksin slaves."
At least 10 people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes since the opposition rallies began.
Tensions were running high after a dramatic gun battle between rival protesters on the streets of the capital that left at least seven people wounded, but there were no reports of serious violence on election day by the time polls closed.
THAILAND GOES TO THE POLLS
- There are 49 million eligible voters for 375 constituencies. A further 125 seats are allocated based on the percentage of votes each party wins.
- Bangkok, dominated by the Democrat Party in the 2011 poll, has 33 constituencies.
- Out of 2.16 million people who registered for early voting on January 26, 440,000 were unable to vote. They will have another chance on February 23.
- In the last election in 2011, Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai party won 265 seats with 48 per cent of the vote, while the Democrats got 159 seats with 35 per cent. Turnout was 75 per cent.
- The Election Commission said it expected a strong turnout in the north, northeast and central provinces, but warned of disruption to voting in Bangkok and the south.
- Another day of voting is already planned for February 23 because of the disruption to advance voting. This means a delay to the final result in some constituencies.
- Candidates were unable to register in 28 constituencies because of action by the anti-government protesters, who also blocked the delivery of voting papers to some polling stations. By-elections will have to be held there, as and when possible.
Probable delay to opening of parliament
- At least 95 per cent of the 500 lawmakers must be present for parliament to open and then proceed to the election of a prime minister. Given the delay in registering candidates in some places, the vote cannot deliver a quorum.
- Holding by-elections could take several months, especially as the constituencies that will be involved are in areas of the south of the country loyal to the Democrat Party and supportive of the present anti-government protest movement.