Thailand’s national elections were marred by protests and ended with inconclusive results that were likely to extend the country’s political paralysis.
Thailand’s national elections were marred by protests and ended with inconclusive results. The WSJ’s Ramy Inocencio talks to correspondent James Hookway about the country’s political paralysis.
Voting was disrupted in 11% of electoral districts, making it impossible to tally final results, said Supachai Somcharoen, chairman of the country’s Election Commission.
The question for Thailand now is whether Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government will be able to hold by-elections in areas where people were unable to vote, or whether her opponents have bought themselves enough to time to force her from office through potential legal challenges.
Clashes between political rivals preceded voting in parts of Bangkok and in southern Thailand, where opposition to Ms. Yingluck runs deep and antigovernment protesters vowed to undermine the voting process.
The standoff turned violent Saturday on the eve of the vote when a gunbattle between rival factions erupted on the streets of the capital, injuring seven people.
More police and army troops were deployed to help the election go smoothly. Scores of security personnel were stationed in Ms. Yingluck’s neighborhood in northern Bangkok, where she cast her vote. “I want to urge people to come out to vote to protect democracy,” she told reporters. Later, she said that she was relieved there was no further violence.
Tensions ran high in some parts of Bangkok. Demonstrators blockaded a number of polling centers and prevented the distribution of ballot sheets, including in the Din Daeng neighborhood, where clashes between protesters and police in December resulted in two deaths.
Sunday morning, a group of residents marched toward the protesters demanding their right to vote, but were repelled by activists, some of whom threw water bottles and other objects.
“I want to vote. I want to exercise the rights that belong to all Thai people,” said 63-year-old Narong Meephon. “A half-baked democracy is still better than nothing at all.”
Sunday’s elections were among the most contentious this pivotal Southeast Asian country has seen. For weeks, demonstrators led by former deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban had campaigned to stop the vote.
They want Ms. Yingluck, 46, to step down and allow an unelected interim government to take over and push through reforms to check the influence of populist leaders, especially the man many people believe controls power in Thailand, Ms. Yingluck’s elder brother Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006.
The opposition Democrat Party boycotted the vote and joined the protesters in an effort to reduce voter turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the poll, which has also illustrated deep geographical divisions in the country. In the central and northern regions, voting was largely unaffected by the turmoil in Bangkok.
In central Bangkok, however, thousands of people turned out to celebrate what they viewed as the failure of the elections and another success in their campaign to force Ms. Yingluck from power. Many danced, clapped and blew whistles as pop groups blasted out hits such as the theme from the “Hawaii Five-O” television show.
But while the election was disrupted, it isn’t over yet. Pongthep Thepkanchana, a minister in Ms. Yingluck’s office, said he had asked the country’s independent Election Commission to set a new date for polls in areas where residents were unable to vote Sunday.
Somchai Pagapasvivat, an independent commentator and scholar, said the government would push hard to complete voting until a new parliament can be formed; Thai laws require 95% of seats to be filled while at the moment the election can fill 94% at most.
Residents demanded the right to vote Sunday in a district in Bangkok where the process was called off. Widespread disruptions in the balloting made a final tally for Thailand’s contentious national election impossible, officials said. The government was expected to try to complete the vote. Reuters
“Elections are the only means to give Ms. Yingluck legitimacy,” Mr. Somchai said, adding that also means that antigovernment protesters would likely try to continue blocking tactics.
“The deteriorating economy and the public will put pressure on the government to consider some kind of reform or compromise.”
Meanwhile, legal challenges to Ms. Yingluck’s political survival are piling up. Thailand’s anticorruption agency is fast-tracking an impeachment case against her for allegedly ignoring massive losses to the state relating to a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy.
More than 300 members of her Pheu Thai Party also face impeachment trials for allegedly violating parliamentary rules in the way they pushed for an abortive amnesty bill that would have enabled Mr. Thaksin to return to Thailand after fleeing the country in 2008 to escape a corruption conviction he says was politically motivated.
Her rivals in the Democrat Party have also said they would file a case contesting the legality of Sunday’s election.
Even casting her own ballot caused problems for Ms. Yingluck. Television cameras caught her placing her votes in the wrong ballot boxes. She later blamed officials for the mix-up.
(Wilawan Watcharasakwet, Warangkana Chomchuen and Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol contributed to this article.)