Protesters demanding the right to vote argue with officials
at a Din Dang district office where voting was called off
in Bangkok. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Elections in Thailand have passed off peacefully but the
country is no nearer to ending its intractable political
conflict, with the government facing the prospect of months of
paralysis, protests and complex legal challenges.
Voting was disrupted in about a fifth of the country's
constituencies, but no major violence was reported, despite
armed clashes between supporters and opponents of embattled
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that wounded seven people
on the eve of the ballot.
Voting ended at 3pm (local time), but no results were
announced yetserday, meaning little change to an uneasy
status quo. Yingluck will remain caretaker premier for weeks,
facing continued anti-government protests and the prospect of
a slew of legal challenges aimed at invalidating the poll.
The usual campaign billboards, glossy posters and
pre-election buzz were noticeably absent this time, as were
many voters fearful of violence or bent on rejecting a ballot
bound to re-elect the political juggernaut controlled by
Yingluck's billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Former premier Thaksin, 64, is loved and loathed, but his
parties have won every poll since 2001. His opponents say he
is a corrupt crony capitalist who tailored policy to enrich
himself and ruling by proxy from exile in Dubai, where he
lives to evade jail time for graft.
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.
"To those of you who went out and prevented ballot boxes from
being delivered, thank you," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban
said in a speech at one of seven rally sites in Bangkok,
where anti-Thaksin sentiment is strong.
Voting was disrupted in 18 percent or 69 of 375
constituencies nationwide, the Election Commission said,
affecting 18 of 77 provinces, where demonstrators calling for
an appointed government succeeded in sabotaging the vote.
With the main opposition Democrat Party boycotting the poll,
Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win comfortably.
Its leader said the election showed the public believed in
"The people are not afraid and they came out to vote today,"
said Jarupong Ruangsuawan, who is also Interior Minister.
"We've fought hard for democracy in Thailand and we proved
that most Thais believe in the democratic process."
Even if the result were known, victory celebrations for
Yingluck would probably be muted. With many parliamentary
seats unfilled, she could be exposed to legal attacks,
intensified protests and unable to pass bills and budgets
crucial to reviving the economy, Southeast Asia's
Anti-government demonstrators say Thaksin subverted
Thailand's fragile democracy by entrenching money politics
and using taxpayers' money for generous subsidies, cheap
healthcare and easy loans that have bought him loyalty from
millions of working-class Thai voters in the north and
With broad support from Bangkok's middle class and tacit
backing of the royalist establishment, old-money elite and
military, the protesters want to suspend democracy, replacing
it with an appointed "people's council" to reform politics
and erode Thaksin's influence.
The latest round of tumult in the eight-year political
conflict erupted in November and underscored Thaksin's
central role in the long-running struggle, both as hero and
Yingluck was largely tolerated by Thaksin's opponents but her
party miscalculated when it tried to introduce a blanket
political amnesty that would have nullified Thaksin's graft
conviction and allowed him to return home.
Many Thais see history repeating itself after a cycle of
elections, protests and military or judicial interventions
that have polarised the country and angered Thaksin's "red
shirt" supporters, who staged crippling blockades in Bangkok
in 2010 and have vowed to defend his sister from any
Thailand's military has remained neutral so far, but the
judiciary has taken on an unusually large number of cases in
the past two months in response to complaints against
Yingluck and Puea Thai that could result in the party's
dissolution and lengthy bans for its top politicians.
There is also a chance the election could be annulled, as it
was in 2006, over a technicality. The Election Commission is
braced for a deluge of complaints and challenges.
Even if Yingluck wins a fresh mandate, analysts say
opposition against her remains entrenched and continued
stalemate is almost certain. Yingluck said she hoped the
various camps could find a way to break the deadlock.
"This election is part of the democratic process," she told
reporters. "I hope all sides can help solve each of the
country's problems. Overall, today was a positive signal."