Thailand’s tense national election got underway on Sunday with protesters forcing the closure of hundreds of polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.
Around the country, the vast majority of voting stations were open and polling proceeded without problems. But the focus was riveted to Bangkok where more than 400 of the capital’s 6,600 polling stations were shut and several skirmishes broke out between protesters intent on disrupting the vote and frustrated would-be voters.
In some cases, protesters formed blockades to prevent voters from entering 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.
Whatever happens in Sunday’s vote, the outcome will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.
The risk of election day violence remained high a day after seven people were wounded during an hour-long gun fight in broad daylight at a busy Bangkok intersection Saturday between government supporters and protesters trying to block delivery of ballots. Among the injured was reporter for the local Daily News newspaper and American photojournalist, James Nachtwey, who was grazed by a bullet in the leg.
The exchange of fire was the latest flare-up in a monthslong campaign by protesters to overthrow Yingluck’s government, which they accuse of corruption. The violence crystallized the power struggle that has devolved into a battle of wills between the government and protesters _ and those caught between who insist on their right 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 told reporters. “I would like to invite Thai people to come out and vote to uphold democracy.”
Voting was not as easy in other parts of Bangkok.
At one of the more volatile districts of the capital, voters in Din Daeng scuffled with protesters and hurled bottles at each other under heavy police security. An Associated Press reporter saw a protester fire a gunshot after angry voters tried to push their way past a blockade. There were no injuries reported.