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Protest leader killed during advance voting for Thai polls

Publication Date : 27-01-2014

 

One person was killed as tempers flared yesterday in Thailand's advance voting for the February 2 General Election, the latest casualty of Thailand's worst political unrest since 2010.

Anti-government protesters blockaded polling centres, preventing 22 per cent of registered advance voters from casting their ballots.

The protest leader, Suthin Taratin, was reportedly shot in Bangkok's Bang Na district after clashes broke out between protesters and people trying to keep the polling centre open.

Demonstrators, who had been camping out in the city for weeks, defied a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounded polling stations before daylight to prevent election officials and voters from entering. In some cases, they manhandled the more determined voters.

Frustrated voters made police reports and also rallied in front of their district office demanding their right to vote.

Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's Puea Thai party is expected to win the general election, but protesters insist its dominance is due to vote-buying.

Driven by the belief that Yingluck is a proxy of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra - the self- exiled former premier deposed by a military coup in 2006 - they have camped out in Bangkok's streets for the past three months and also disrupted election registration.

Thaksin is broadly supported by Thailand's rural masses while the protesters have been drawing their support from the royalist establishment, urban middle class, as well as scores of supporters from southern Thailand.

Competition between the two camps for political clout has flared up several times since 2006, but this latest instalment has darkened Thailand's economic outlook considerably and put much needed long-term infrastructure projects in jeopardy.

After advance voting closed at 3pm yesterday, the Election Commission announced that voting could not be held in 89 out of 375 constituencies nationwide. These 89 constituencies were concentrated in Bangkok and southern Thailand - both strongholds of the opposition Democrat Party, which is boycotting the polls.

A total of 440,000 out of two million registered advance voters were unable to cast their ballots, said the commission.

Many voters directed their wrath at the commission, which they accused of caving in too easily to protests and closing polling stations hours before voting was scheduled to end.

In the Bangkok district of Lat Krabang, they massed outside the district office, shouting: "The Election Commission has to at least try to work!"

Office worker Thanaporn Booda, 42, glared at the closed gates of the polling centre. "I am very angry," she said. "My right to vote is a basic right."

Until last Friday, the Election Commission and caretaker government had been wrangling over the date of the election.

The commission, citing fears of disruption and violence, wanted to postpone the polls, but the caretaker government insisted that neither it nor the commission had the power to delay polls.

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled last Friday that Yingluck and the commission have joint authority to postpone the polls, and both are due to meet tomorrow to discuss the matter.

But analysts do not expect any resolution even if elections are postponed. This is because a delay could incur the wrath of pro-government "red-shirt" supporters, who have been staying their hand in recent months to avoid clashes with protesters.

Dr Titipol Phakdeewanich, a visiting research scholar at Kyoto University, said: "Even if there is no election, the problems will not go away."

 

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