Anti-government protesters in Thailand who are demanding the ouster of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra have moved to block, and in some cases padlock, polling stations in an effort to disrupt early voting for the Feb. 2 elections.
The protesters oppose elections because, they charge, Yingluck’s political allies will engage in vote-buying and other corrupt practices to secure a win.
NPR’s Michael Sullivan, reporting from Chiang Rai in the country’s north, says that “protesters are doing whatever they can to disrupt the February 2 election. Today they chained shut the doors to many polling stations in the capital where advance voting was to take place, denying voters the right to cast their ballots.”
The BBC reports: “Voting was either blocked completely or halted at 49 out of 50 polling stations in Bangkok. Early voting was also disrupted in 10 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, reports said.”
One protest leader was shot in the head near a polling station where demonstrators clashed with supporters of the embattled prime minister.
The BBC says:
“Suthin Taratin was speaking on top of a truck, which was part of a rally at a polling station where advanced voting was supposed to take place, when he was struck by gunfire.”
Some voters were attacked by whistle-blowing anti-government mobs as they tried to reach polling stations. In one video shot by activists, a woman is seen forcibly dragged from a polling station and, a separate video, another woman climbs a chained gate to reach a voting booth inside.
Michael reports from Chiang Rai that: “Despite the state of emergency declared earlier this week, police did nothing to stop the protesters.”
The action to block polling stations came a day after protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, promised that his supporters would not disrupt elections. Suthep and his “yellow shirt” faction have called for Yingluck to step down and for an unelected council to run the country.
The yellow shirts accuse Yingluck, who was elected in a 2011 landslide, of corruption and say her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, toppled in a 2006 military coup, of pulling the strings of her government from exile abroad.
As we reported earlier this month, the latest protests were triggered by the government’s sponsorship of an amnesty bill that would nullify Thaksin’s conviction on corruption charges and allow him to return home. The controversial bill has since been withdrawn, but that was not enough to quell anti-government protests.
Suthep, a former minister in the first civilian government to follow the 2006 coup, has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder related to his part in a 2010 crackdown on pro-Thaksin supporters that killed scores of protesters.