Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra urged people to cast their vote in the nation’s general election today, as thousands of protesters seeking her ouster took to the streets in Bangkok to disrupt the poll.
“I want to persuade people to come out to vote to protect democracy,” Yingluck told reporters after voting near her home in Bueng Kum in Bangkok’s north-west. Polling stations nationwide are scheduled to close at 3 p.m.
Voting was abandoned in the northern Bangkok district of Laksi after seven people were injured in a gun-battle yesterday, the Election Commission said. As many as 62 of Thailand’s 77 provinces will be unaffected, including Yingluck’s strongholds in the north and northeast, according to the commission.
In the south, where the main opposition Democrat Party has its power base, “demonstrators are still blocking post offices in Chumporn, Songkhla and Nakhon Si Thammarat,” Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said. The Democrats are boycotting the election, and poll results may not be certified for months because by-elections must be held in districts where advance voting was disrupted last weekend, as well as areas blockaded by demonstrators today, Puchong said.
A disputed poll will leave Yingluck’s administration in caretaker mode, complicating its efforts to raise funds to pay rice farmers under a state subsidy program. Suthep Thaugsuban, a former Democrat powerbroker who has led a three-month street campaign to oust Yingluck, said the election will be annulled because his group blocked candidates from registering in some provinces and shut down polling stations during advance voting.
A clash yesterday between pro- and anti-government groups at Laksi intersection involved explosive devices and gunfire, according to the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service’s website. Seven people were injured and taken to the hospital, it said.
The army sent personnel to assist the police in Laksi, Winthai Suvaree, the deputy army spokesman, told reporters yesterday, urging “all groups to respect the law.”
Protesters have also occupied several major intersections in the city since Jan. 13 in a bid to prevent Yingluck’s government from functioning. Suthep said protesters won’t block polling stations, while urging all voters to choose a side in the country’s political conflict.
“We will not vote, but we will not criticize anyone for casting their vote,” he told supporters late yesterday. “We will not block anybody who wants to cast their ballot. You can go to vote. We want to know who is on our side.”
Suthep says he speaks for a “silent majority” who don’t want elections until Yingluck is replaced with an appointed council that would erase what they call her family’s corrupting political influence. Yingluck says such a council would be undemocratic and an affront to the almost 16 million people who elected her in 2011.
Yingluck is deploying 10,000 police in Bangkok alone, having declared a state of emergency, as she seeks to avoid a repeat of the violence that obstructed advance voting on Jan. 26 in the south and most of the capital. Ten people have been killed and more than 500 injured since protests began Oct. 31.
Six people injured as gunshots and explosions break out on the streets of Bangkok on the eve of the general election
Prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is set to win re-election tomorrow
But protesters are trying to delay the poll by bringing violence to the streets
Masked gunmen fired weapons and explosion were heard at demonstrations
Multiple people were injured today as chaos broke out on the streets of Bangkok the day before a general election which has divided Thailand.
Gunshots rang out while at least two explosions were heard at anti-government protests, with six people wonded in front of a suburban shopping mall in the north of the city.
Sporadic gunfire continued into the evening, with masked men openly firing handguns as security forces used M-16 rifles to fire warning shots into the air.
Warning: graphic content
Gunman: A protester wielding a pistol on the streets of Bangkok ahead of the Thai general election
Masked: Many of the gunmen were wearing balaclavas to hide their identities as they sought to disrupt the election
Hurt: A bloodied man and a woman look around a wall as a gun battle rages in the Bangkok suburbs
Tomorrow’s election is almost certain to return prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power, despite efforts by some opposition supporters to disrupt the poll.
The violence came amid generally peaceful protests around Bangkok and revived chilling memories of political unrest in 2010, when supporters of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra – Ms Yingluck’s brother – paralysed Bangkok in protest against the Democrat Party.
Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in politically related violence since late November.
On the run: An injured protester attempts to get away from the violence after being caught in the crossfire
Agony: The man tries to stanch his wounds as blood covers his face while violence rages
Treatment: An injured protester who was shot by anti-government mobs is carried away by friends
The protests’ leader, opposition boss Suthep Thaugsuban, has called for a peaceful blockade of roads, but has vowed not to stop people voting.
‘The people will not close the polling booths, but will demonstrate on the roads,’ he said yesterday. ‘They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without violence. We won’t do anything that will hinder people from going to vote.’
Election Commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong said the commission has instructed staff to halt voting if there is rioting or other violence.