Thailand begins re-runs of troubled elections

AFP , Sunday 2 Mar 2014

Women looks at the pictures of candidates at a polling station in Samut Sakhon province, on the outskirts of Bangkok March 2, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Polls opened peacefully in five Thai provinces Sunday for re-runs of a widely disrupted general election, authorities said, in the first move to complete a troubled vote that could provide a mandate for a new government.

A February 2 election failed to ease the months-long political crisis after anti-government protesters seeking to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra obstructed the vote in many opposition strongholds.

Demonstrators prevented 10,000 polling stations from opening, affecting several million people, mainly in opposition strongholds in Bangkok and the south.

The nation's Election Commission said the results will not be announced until polls have been held in all constituencies, setting a rough deadline of April for their completion.

A total of around 120,000 people were registered in 101 constituencies across five provinces for Sunday's vote, election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told AFP.

"The polls are going peacefully -- everything is under control and there are no problems," Somchai said, adding that a few dozen protesters blew whistles at one polling station in Rayong province.

A trickle of voters arrived at two polling stations early Sunday in Phetchaburi -- one of the affected provinces south of Bangkok -- according to an AFP reporter, but there were no signs of new obstruction of the polls.

Until the full results are announced, Prime Minister Yingluck remains in a caretaker role with limited power over policy.

Under Thai election law, 95 percent of the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament must be filled to enable the appointment of a new government.

Thailand's main opposition party, which boycotted the vote, in February lost a legal bid to nullify a controversial election.

In addition to the street protests, Yingluck faces a slew of legal challenges to her government, including charges of negligence over a troubled rice subsidy scheme which could see her removed from office.

Thailand has been riven by political divisions since 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's older brother -- was ousted in a bloodless military coup.

Hatred for him has fuelled demonstrations which seek to end the influence of his billionaire family on Thai politics.

Shinawatra-linked parties have won every election for more than a decade, drawing on support from the rural north and northeast.

Anti-government protesters on Sunday began dismantling rally stages at several key intersections in the capital after announcing the end of their self-proclaimed "shutdown" of the city.

Crowds have dwindled amid a spate of near-daily gun and grenade attacks -- including an attack last Sunday in a downtown shopping area which killed a woman and two children.

Protesters have moved their tents to a park in the centre of the city, which has also been occupied for weeks.

The movement has denied the retreat marks a defeat, saying it would keep up its struggle to overthrow a government that it sees as corrupt.

Firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who is known for his soaring rhetoric, has predicted Yingluck's government will fall within a fortnight.

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