Fears of election-day violence in Thailand went largely unrealized on Sunday as efforts by anti-government protesters to block voting stations fell short of their goal of disrupting the parliamentary polls.
A few hundred polling stations in the capital were shut down by protesters, but the vast majority of them across the country remained open.
The election, called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, was part of a bid to quell unrest that has threatened her government. Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party won overwhelmingly in 2011, but the opposition has denied the mandate and insisted that her government be replaced with an unelected council controlled by the monarchy.
Michael Sullivan reports for NPR from Bangkok that the Thai Election Commission says 89 percent of polling stations were open. He says there was almost no violence in the capital, despite a pitched gun battle that raged ahead of the polling on Saturday in which seven people were wounded.
In several districts in Bangkok “protestors blocked voters from casting ballots while the police and army stood by and did nothing,” he said.
Sullivan, who visited one station in the capital’s Din Daeng district, says voters there broke through the police line and tried to get to the polling station. “There was a couple gunshots and then that was it, everyone dispersed very quickly,” he tells Weekend Edition Saturday.
“Basically these people were disenfranchised today and that’s something that they felt very strongly about and were angry about,” he says.
The Associated Press reports:
“Angry voters at one Bangkok district stood outside of closed voting stations waving their identification cards and shouting ‘Election! Election!'”
“‘We have the right to vote. You don’t have the right to take that away from us,’ said Sasikarn Wannachokechai, a 51-year-old Bangkok resident who said she had never missed a chance to vote.”
“Election results won’t be known for some time. Another round must be scheduled for those denied access to polling stations. And elections must be held in 28 constituencies where protesters blocked candidate registration.”
The New York Times writes that although the disruption of polling wasn’t as widespread as feared, it appears “to be a prelude to a period of continued political paralysis in the country.”
“Opposition forces, who represent a minority in the country and are seeking an appointed government, say they will challenge the election in the courts while continuing their street demonstrations in Bangkok.”
“Ms. Yingluck … voted soon after polls opened near her Bangkok home.”
“She told the BBC it was important that people came out to vote to exercise their democratic right.”
“But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said the government would be unable to declare a result because of the closures, adding: ‘Therefore the election is a waste of time and money.'”
The latest round of unrest in Thailand was sparked by the introduction of an amnesty bill that would have allowed Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to the country, despite his conviction on corruption charges. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
Protest leader Suthep, who was a minister in the first civilian government to follow the coup, is charged with murder for overseeing a bloody crackdown on pro-Thaksin demonstrations in 2010 that resulted in the deaths of scores of activists.