BANGKOK – Polling ended on Sunday in the Land of Coups (Thailand), where the general elections were boycotted by the opposition and disrupted by protestors seeking to prevent the re-election of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The voting ended as scheduled at 3 p.m. and ballot counting began at all the polling stations immediately, The Nation reported.
However, the announcement of Thai election results has been postponed because of problems including the blocking of advance voting and the failure to hold voting in some constituencies on Sunday, the Election Commission said.
“Today, we cannot announce the overall results of the election,” commission Chairman Supachai Somcharoen said in an announcement on Thai TV.
Earlier in the day, protesters trying to derail Thailand’s national elections forced the closure of hundreds of polling stations in a highly contentious vote that has become the latest flashpoint in the country’s deepening political crisis.
Around the country, the vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded relatively peacefully, but the risk of violence remained high a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.
The national focus was riveted to the capital where 488 of the capital’s 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters.
In some cases, protesters formed blockades to prevent voters from entering polling stations. Elsewhere, protesters blocked the delivery of ballots and other election materials, preventing voting stations from opening. The Election Commission said that hundreds of polling stations in the south, an opposition stronghold, faced similar problems.
Fears of violence were high after an hour-long gun fight Saturday erupted at a busy Bangkok intersection between government supporters and protesters trying to block delivery of ballots. Among the injured was contract reporter for Time Magazine and American photojournalist, James Nachtwey, who was grazed by a bullet in the leg.
The exchange of fire was the latest flare-up in a months-long campaign by protesters to overthrow Ms. Yingluck’s government, which they accuse of corruption. The violence crystallized the power struggle that has devolved into a battle of wills between the government and protesters and those caught between who insist on their right to vote.
Under heavy police security, Ms. Yingluck cast her vote at a polling station in northeastern Bangkok, cheered on by supporters.
“Today is an important day,” Ms. Yingluck told reporters. “I would like to invite Thai people to come out and vote to uphold democracy.”
Voting was not as easy in other parts of Bangkok.
At one of the more volatile districts of the capital, voters in Din Daeng scuffled with protesters and hurled bottles at each other under heavy police security. An Associated Press reporter saw a protester fire a gunshot after angry voters tried to push their way past a blockade. There were no injuries reported.
Dozens of voters demanding their right to vote broke into the Din Daeng district office, which was unable to distribute ballots to the neighborhood’s voting stations.
“We want an election. We are Thais,” said Narong Meephol, a 63-year-old Bangkok resident, waving his identification card. “We are here to exercise our rights.”
Elsewhere, one of Thailand’s more colourful politicians Chuwit Kamolvisit, an independent candidate, got into a punching, knock-down brawl with a group of protesters.
“They tried to attack me while I was trying to go vote,” said Chuwit, a tycoon who made a fortune operating massage parlors before turning to politics as an anti-corruption campaigner.
Police said they would deploy 100,000 officers nationwide, while the army is putting 5,000 soldiers into Bangkok to boost security. More than 48 million people are registered to vote.
A power vacuum may entice the military to step in and declare a coup as it did in 2006, when Ms. Yingluck’s elder brother, ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was deposed. Mr. Thaksin lives in exile but has remained a central and highly polarizing figure in Thailand’s political strife ever since. The rural majority in the north adore him for his populist policies, such as virtually free health care, while Bangkok’s elite and many in the south consider him and his family a corrupting influence on the country. Protesters say Ms. Yingluck is a puppet of her billionaire brother.
Another possibility is what is being called a “judicial coup.” Analysts say the courts and the country’s independent oversight agencies all tilt heavily against the Shinawatras’ political machine, and Yingluck’s opponents are already studying legal justifications to nullify Sunday’s vote.