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Less than half of voters cast ballots in Thailand

Publication Date : 04-02-2014


Less than half of registered voters - 45.8 per cent - cast their ballots in Thailand's general election on Sunday, following a three-month-long campaign to oust caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and attempts to sabotage the polls.

More significantly, the moves also slashed the turnout in the pro-government north and north-east, where voting was unhindered by protests, which took place in and around Bangkok.

Conclusive figures will be released only after subsequent rounds of polling are conducted, to allow more than eight million people thwarted by anti-government protests to vote.

But preliminary data released by the Election Commission yesterday showed that turnout in the northern province of Chiang Mai - the home town of Yingluck and a Puea Thai stronghold - was 54.7 per cent, down from 83.1 per cent in the 2011 election.

Northeastern provinces like bustling Udon Thani and Khon Kaen registered similar turnouts. Overall voter turnout in 2011 was 75 per cent.

The turnout was a closely watched barometer of the opposition to Bangkok's escalating street protests, aimed at derailing the polls and having a "people's council" appointed to carry out political reforms.
Protesters alleged that rampant vote-buying would guarantee Puea Thai a victory, and attempted to block polling and press for a boycott. The campaign angered other Thais wanting to protect their voting rights.

Voting on Sunday was disrupted in 67 out of 375 constituencies, mainly in Bangkok and southern Thailand. That night, after protesters stopped ballot papers from reaching some Bangkok districts, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban claimed victory amid the low turnout of 26 per cent in the capital.

But analysts said it was too early to conclude why turnout dropped even in districts where polling was smooth and untouched by violence.
Dr David Streckfuss, a Khon Kaen-based academic, told The Straits Times: "For those who were concerned about the future of democracy in Thailand, there was a certain victory about getting the election off at all."

Up until five days before the polls, it was not clear if they would be delayed. On the eve of the election, a fierce gunfight between pro- and anti-government groups wounded at least six people on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Earlier, protester blockades in southern Thailand had prevented candidates from registering for 28 constituencies, so the 500-member House of Representatives will not have enough legislators to open a new session.

More importantly, Yingluck and Puea Thai politicians are facing impeachment probes that could displace them in the coming weeks, while the well-funded protesters are increasingly emboldened by the military's reluctance to take sides.

Chiang Mai-based political scientist Tanet Charoenmuang said: "People are realistic. They know that the protesters have hidden supporters, and that even if they give a clear mandate, it might not be counted."

Yesterday, even as Puea Thai politicians were quick to claim victory in Sunday's polls, the Democrat Party, which boycotted the election, vowed to launch a court case to annul the results. According to Puea Thai candidate Smarn Lertwongrath, the party has won at least 355 seats, bettering its 2011 performance of 265 seats.

Yesterday, protesters continued defying an emergency decree by massing around Yingluck's temporary office on the city's outskirts. Protester blockades have prevented her from using her original office for weeks.


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