Polling stations in Thailand on Sunday were obstructed by anti-government demonstrators to stop advance voting ahead of the general elections next week. The demonstrators threatened voters, chained gates shut, and prevented people in the hundreds of thousands from voting.
It is reported that 11 people were wounded by a polling station and at least one person has been killed; a protest leader shot to death identified as Suthin Taratin. More brawls throughout different regions of Bangkok occurred.
The Feb. 2 elections were set by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to lessen the number of street protests that were occurring against her allegedly corrupt administration. Crowds were not dispersed by the police because of orders to avoid creating violence.
The protest movement is called the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. The group said they would not interfere with the voting, claiming that demonstrators will express their opinions outside the polls. The Associated Press notes that Akanat Promphan did not criticize the demonstrators, but said the demonstrators who locked the gates were independent, and the closing of the stations were made by officials from the Election Commission.
USA Today reports that the efforts of the protestors looked “coordinated,” with physical action taking place to stop voters from casting their ballots. Though there were some that managed to vote, 48 of Bangkok’s 50 stations were closed, with 11 in the south closing also. Bangkok and the South are two areas considered to be a stronghold for opposition. However, throughout the rest of Thailand, advanced voting continued. The total amounts to 59 closed voting stations out of the Thailand’s 152 stations.
The fact demonstrators obstructed the advanced polls Sunday causes concern for the main voting across Thailand next week, as the demonstrators have now proven they have the ability to cause an upheaval by force, and as USA Today reports, it very unlikely the electoral commission will oppose them.
It is widely known that the commission is in favor of the demonstrators and they believe that the poll should at least be delayed. The commission opposed the legal mandate of making sure that voters can safely cast their ballots by doing nothing. This was confirmed by Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, who told USA News that they “just sat down and watched this thing collapse around them.”
A top executive of the commission has been seen in at least one photo smiling with demonstrators, even though the group is supposed to be neutral. In December, they did not speak out about the violent backlash by protesters against the registration of candidates. Not surprisingly, they also did not condemn the demonstrators on Sunday, nor did they, according to Sunai, call security to help defend the crisis at the ballot.
According to analysts, the courts oppose the current government and support the royalists, army, and influential businessmen. This is largely due to Yingluck’s legal troubles and accusations of corruption. The legal cases could even result to the banishment of her governing.
The advanced voting was obstructed by demonstrators to send clear their message and demand of wanting a non-elected “people’s council” in Thailand that would be devoid of corruption. The group accuses the current government of taking advantage of its majority to undermine the power of democracy.
By Kollin Lore