Thai polls marred by widespread disruption

Demonstrators force Bangkok polling stations to close but further voting scheduled for later this month.

Elections in Thailand passed off peacefully on Sunday, but anti-government protesters made their presence felt in the voting, blockading polling stations across the country.

Polling was disrupted in about a fifth of the country’s constituencies, but no major violence was reported, despite armed clashes between supporters and opponents of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Voting ended at 08:00 GMT on Sunday but no results will be announced. Further voting is already scheduled for February 23 after problems with advance polling last Sunday, while the ballot in some southern areas may not happen for weeks.

Voting was disrupted in 18 percent or 69 of 375 constituencies nationwide, the Election Commission said, affecting 18 of 77 provinces, Reuters reported.

The incumbent prime minister thanked Thais who headed to polling stations across the country to vote.

“I would like to thank all Thai people who help to maintain democracy. The election today finished peacefully. There might be some problem in some areas, but overall there is no violence to concern people.

“Thanks to everybody who helped to maintain democracy.”

The vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded relatively peacefully.

Supachai Somcharoen, the chairman of the country’s election commission, told Al Jazeera that about 89 percent of polling stations were able to operate normally throughout the country.

“Thank you everyone from both sides for contributing to a peaceful election day. The election today didn’t cause any loss of life,” another election commission official, Somchai Sisoothiyakorn, told AP.

The protests were organised by opponents of the government of Yingluck, who decided to go ahead with the polls despite official advice not to do so in the face of widespread opposition. Protesters want her out of power, claiming she is a puppet of her billionaire brother Thaksin, who was deposed in a coup in 2006. 

Anti-government protesters boycott polls

The national focus on Sunday was on the capital, where the main protests were being held. Several skirmishes broke out between protesters and frustrated would-be voters.

In some cases, protesters formed blockades to prevent voters from entering the polling stations. Elsewhere, protesters blocked the delivery of ballots and other election materials, preventing voting stations from opening.

The Election Commission said that hundreds of polling stations in the south, an opposition stronghold, faced similar problems.

Heightened security

In the north and northeast, voting went smoothly, said Paritporn Hongthanithorn, a pro-government “red shirt” leader from Udon Thani, a Yingluck stronghold.

“Blocking polling booths and intimidation of ordinary people who want to vote is completely unacceptable,” she said. “We condemn what is happening in Bangkok and the south. The protesters cannot block people from exercising their right to vote.”

The outcome of Sunday’s vote may be inconclusive because protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts, which means that parliament will not have enough members to convene – which could lead the country to be stuck in a political limbo while by-elections are conducted in the constituencies which were unable to vote.

Under heavy police security, Yingluck cast her vote at a polling station in northeastern Bangkok, cheered on by supporters.

“Today is an important day,” Yingluck said.

With no quorum to re-elect a prime minister, it is likely that Yingluck could be a caretaker premier for months.

Questioning the legitimacy of Thailand’s election

Even with a fresh mandate, a stalemate is almost certain, giving her opponents more time to intensify their campaign against her and for legal challenges to be lodged.

The main opposition Democrat Party boycotted the poll and the Election Commission has already voiced concerns that it would result in too few legitimately elected MPs to produce a parliamentary quorum.

Thailand’s military has remained neutral so far, but the judiciary has taken on an unusually large number of cases in the past two months in response to complaints against Yingluck and Puea Thai that could result in the party’s dissolution and lengthy bans for its top politicians.

Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in politically related violence since late November, according to the Erawan Medical Centre, which monitors Bangkok hospitals.

Source: News Agencies