After disrupting Thailand election, protesters pledge more demonstrations


Story highlights

NEW: The United States says it doesn't want to see a military coup in Thailand

An estimated 45.84% of Thai voters participated in the election, authorities say

Anti-government protesters disrupted the vote and are continuing their rallies in Bangkok

The Electoral Commission says it could take months to complete voting

Bangkok, Thailand CNN —  

Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, is a business tycoon who became prime minister before being overthrown in a military coup. He has since lived in exile, but his opponents accuse him of dominating politics from afar, including through his sister.

The troubled election Sunday, which was boycotted by the main opposition party, appears unlikely to resolve Thailand’s protracted political crisis, which has fueled bouts of deadly unrest in the Southeast Asian country.

During the tense election process, anti-government protesters stopped candidates from registering, blocked delivery of ballot boxes and prevented people from casting their votes. As a result, voting was disrupted in 69 out of the country’s 375 electoral districts, authorities said.

The demonstrators have been protesting since November, saying they want to rid Thailand of the influence of Yingluck and her older brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile.

Protest leaders are demanding that an unelected “people’s council” be given the power to carry out political and electoral changes in a country where parties affiliated with Thaksin have dominated elections since 2001.

Disrupted election

Yingluck has insisted that an election is the only legitimate way forward for Thailand, which has been repeatedly wracked by political conflicts over the past eight years. Her party is expected to win this vote comfortable, especially as the opposition Democrat Party refused to participate.

An estimated 45.84% of voters participated in the election, the Election Commission said Monday, a far lower turnout than the 75% in the 2011 vote that brought Yingluck to power.

Election results are yet to be announced, but since voting was disrupted in so many districts, the vote appears unlikely to produce enough valid results to form a parliament, meaning Yingluck will remain as caretaker Prime Minister.

The Electoral Commission says holding by-elections in all the disrupted districts – a process likely to face further pressure from protesters – could take as long as six months.

But Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkarnchana said Monday that the commission is required under the constitution to organize enough by-elections to reopen parliament within 30 days of Sunday’s vote.

The opposition, meanwhile, is mounting a legal challenge to the election’s legitimacy.

Last week, an attorney for the Democrat Party filed a petition asking the nation’s constitutional court to declare Sunday’s election invalid because of the disruptions to voting.

Protesters resolute

The outlook for Thailand appears to be more uncertainty and unrest.

Since November, at least 10 people have died and nearly 600 have been wounded in violence linked to tensions around the protests.

The conflict has deepened the country’s political divide. The anti-government movement draws it support from southern Thailand, Bangkok’s middle class and the established elites. Yingluck’s base is in the less affluent but more populous regions north and east of the capital.

In Laksi, a Bangkok district of mixed pro- and anti-government sentiment, gunfire erupted Saturday between masked men amid demonstrations against the elections, witnesses said. Health officials reported at least eight people wounded since Saturday.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban on Sunday sought to distance his movement from the violence.

“We need to keep our principles. We fight in peace, with no weapons and violence. We only fight with our feet and whistles,” he said. “We have the right to a peaceful protest.”

Suthep said his supporters would continue efforts this week to block government offices in Bangkok. They held a march in the center of Bangkok on Monday.

Lt. Gen. Paradon Patthanathabut, the national security chief, estimated that there were between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators on the city’s streets Monday. Protesters generally dispute authorities’ estimates of their numbers, claiming they are far higher.

Amid the political deadlock, some observers have suggested Thailand’s powerful military, which has carried out coups in the past, could step in. The military’s stance on the crisis remains unclear.

The U.S. government is opposed to a coup, the State Department said Monday.

“We are speaking directly to all elements of Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences,” Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said at a regular news briefing.

Voters determined

Despite the tensions in Bangkok over the weekend, many voters insisted on casting their ballots.