THAILAND – Polling has remained peaceful in five Thai provinces for re-runs of elections that were disrupted in February by protesters seeking to unseat Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and obstruct her attempt to win a new mandate.
Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tensions on the eve of the February 2 general election, which was seen as incapable of restoring stability in deeply polarized Thailand whatever the result. Voting was disrupted in 18 percent of constituencies, 69 out of 375, nationwide, affecting 18 of 77 provinces, according to the Election Commission.
Demonstrators prevented 10,000 polling stations from opening at the time, affecting several million people, mainly in opposition strongholds in Bangkok and the south.
As the re-run polls proceeded smoothly on Sunday, protesters gathered in central Lumpini Park in Bangkok, where many already sleep in tents alongside boating lakes, after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said they would abandon other sites in the city.
“The polls are going peacefully – everything is under control and there are no problems,” election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told the AFP news agency, adding that a few dozen protesters blew whistles at one polling station in Rayong province.
A total of around 120,000 people were registered in 101 constituencies across five provinces for Sunday’s vote, Somchai said.
Results will not be announced until polls have been held in all constituencies, with a rough deadline of April set for their completion. Some other re-runs scheduled for April await a court decision on procedures. Until then, Yingluck will remain in a caretaker role with limited power over policy.
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.
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 result cannot change the dysfunctional status quo in a country popular among tourists and investors yet blighted by eight years of turmoil, pitting the Bangkok-based middle class and royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of the Shinawatra family.
“For those who worried that I may give up, I can reassure that an old man like me does not know how to give up,” Suthep said on Saturday, in reference to the scaled-down protest.
“That’s because there are millions of people who support me. This is not a move to retreat, but it is an adjustment in our maneuver for fighting.”
Protest numbers had dwindled amid attacks on various camps with grenades and guns. Three people were killed when a grenade was thrown into a busy shopping area near one camp last Sunday.
Red Shirts Gathering
Meanwhile in North Eastern Thailand, Pro-government Red Shirts, who have been closely watching the unfolding political drama in Bangkok, have ramped up their rallies and rhetoric in support of Yingluck and her billionaire brother Thaksin — a former prime minister who lives in exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
On Sunday organizers said thousands of people were descending on the Red Shirt stronghold of Khon Kaen in the country’s northeast for an overnight rally.
It follows a similar rally on Saturday in the northeast, which together with the rural north has returned Shinawatra-allied governments to power in every election for more than a decade.
They say their votes are a political reward for policies that have funneled state money to their hard-scrabble regions after years of neglect.
Critics describe the same policies as a form of vote-buying.
“We are ready to come in Bangkok if the situation is still a mess,” Red Shirt spokesman Thanavut Vichaidit said, as he led a convoy of supporters to Khon Kaen.