A Thai protester was shot and killed as groups seeking to block early voting for a Feb. 2 election clashed with government supporters, prompting the Election Commission to repeat calls for the ballot to be delayed.
One person was killed and 10 injured in a clash at a polling station in the Bangkok district of Bang-na, the Bangkok Emergency Medical Service said on its website. Protesters disrupted advanced voting in 33 of the capital’s constituencies, while polls went ahead in 292 of 375 electoral areas nationwide, the Election Commission said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has withstood three months of protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban, a former opposition politician who is demanding she quit and allow an unelected council to rewrite electoral rules to erase the influence of her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra. Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the government still has time to delay the vote and avoid further violence.
“What we saw today shows what we will face on Feb. 2,” Somchai told reporters yesterday. “If we can reach an agreement to hold a new election, the government will need to consider whether it can issue a new royal decree to replace the existing one. I think they can do it in time.”
Yingluck imposed a state of emergency in Bangkok Jan. 22 after an escalation of violence that has killed 10 people and injured more than 500 since protests began Oct. 31. She is scheduled to meet election commissioners tomorrow to discuss proposals to delay the vote, after the Constitutional Court ruled last week a postponement was possible.
Thailand’s SET Index (SET) of stocks has slumped 8.9 percent since the unrest began, the most among Asian benchmarks, and the baht has fallen more than 5 percent.
Suthep has refused offers from Yingluck to negotiate and has vowed to maintain a blockade of major Bangkok intersections that began Jan. 13 until she resigns. The protesters, mostly middle-class Bangkokians and opposition Democrat party supporters from southern provinces, say Yingluck’s government is illegitimate and run from abroad by Thaksin, who faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns in a case he says is politically motivated.
“We won’t postpone the election on Feb. 2 because we’ve seen from the advance voting that it can still go ahead,” Deputy Prime Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said yesterday, before the protester was killed. “They blocked polling stations only in some parts of Bangkok and southern provinces that are equivalent to eight to 10 percent of the country, while 90 percent can go ahead.”
The U.S. is troubled by efforts to block the polls and prevent voting, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement yesterday. While the U.S. does not take sides in the dispute, “preventing citizens from voting violates their universal rights and is inconsistent with democratic values,” Psaki said in the statement. “We reiterate our call for all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint, and commit to sincere dialogue.”
An election delay may spark a backlash from Thaksin’s supporters, who in 2010 blockaded Bangkok’s main shopping district to pressure then-premier Abhisit Vejjajiva to hold early elections. That standoff ended when Abhisit and Suthep, who was deputy prime minister, ordered the army to disperse protesters in a crackdown that left more than 90 dead.
Yingluck dissolved parliament Dec. 9 and announced the election a day after Democrat party members resigned en masse to join the rallies, which at their peak drew hundreds of thousands of people in Bangkok. Since late October, protesters have invaded government offices and blocked roads in the capital to force Yingluck to scrap the election, which the Democrats have said they will boycott.
The Election Commission has urged the government to defer the vote until May. Candidates in some southern provinces were unable to register for the poll because of a blockade by protesters, which means parliament won’t achieve the quorum needed even if the election goes ahead.
“If the government goes ahead with the election we are ready to perform our duty, though it’s clear that parliament can’t open because the number of MPs will fall short of 95 percent,” Election Commission Chairman Supachai Somcharoen said yesterday, adding that delaying the poll won’t guarantee an easing of political tensions.
The Constitutional Court ruled Jan. 24 that the election can be delayed and that Yingluck and the commission have the power to set a new date.
More than 17,000 police were deployed at polling stations nationwide, spokesman Piya Uthayo said yesterday. About 2.16 million people registered for advanced voting, including 1.2 million outside Bangkok, he said.
Voters in Thailand’s 375 constituencies could register for advance polls if they expected to be in another part of the country on election day, according to the commission’s website. About 22 percent of the people who registered to vote early were unable to cast their ballots, Somchai said.
Suphat Kanthabuppa, a 40-year-old factory worker from Udon Thani in Thailand’s northeast, and his coworker Boonjan Somsao, 36, defended their right to vote at a polling station in Bang Pu in Samut Prakarn province outside Bangkok yesterday.
“I wanted to use my vote and I want people to respect it,” Suphat said. “An election is the way out of the current situation. If the protesters think they have a lot of people on their side, why not have a vote and see.”
His coworker Boonjan added “democracy is voting.”
“If we don’t have democracy, we are just communists,” he said.
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