Thailand election disrupted by protests

Media caption,
The BBC's Jonathan Head: "At this polling station, it looks like the election is off"

Protests have disrupted Thailand's general election, halting voting in parts of Bangkok and the south, but officials say that 89% of polling stations operated normally.

Some six million registered voters were affected by the closures, the Election Commission said.

PM Yingluck Shinawatra called the vote to head off weeks of mass protests.

Her party is widely expected to win but legal challenges and a lack of a quorum of MPs may create a political limbo.

'I want to vote'

Security has been heavy throughout Thailand, with vast areas under a state of emergency.

"The situation overall is calm and we haven't received any reports of violence this morning," National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabutr told Reuters.

Security officials said about 130,000 personnel had been deployed across Thailand on Sunday, including 12,000 in Bangkok.

There has been little campaigning for the election and it was unclear how many Thais had turned out.

Ms Yingluck, who won the last election in 2011, voted soon after polls opened near her Bangkok home.

She told the BBC it was important that people came out to vote to exercise their democratic right.

But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said the government would be unable to declare a result because of the closures, adding: "Therefore the election is a waste of time and money."

Protests prevented voting from taking place in 438 of Bangkok's 6,671 polling stations, and there was no voting at all in nine southern provinces.

The government said there was no disruption in the north and north-east of the country.

Ms Yingluck's Pheu Thai party has overwhelming support in these regions, while the south and parts of the capital are strongholds of the opposition Democrat Party, which is boycotting the election.

Media caption,
Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra: "Election is the right way under the democratic process"

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says demonstrators blocked access to voters at some polling stations in the capital and prevented ballot papers reaching those polling stations.

Some voters expressed frustration when they found their local polling stations blocked.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
A woman demands to cast her vote in Bangkok
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Anti-government protesters tried to block the delivery of ballot boxes
Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Bangkok's Din Daeng district office was one place where polling was called off

"This is too much. I want to vote,"' 42-year-old Yupin Pintong told the Associated Press news agency. "I don't care if there's violence. I will be really upset if I don't get to vote."

Anti-government activist Nipon Kaewsook told Reuters: "We're not blocking the election. We're postponing it. We still need an election, but we need reform first."

One high-profile politician, independent candidate and anti-corruption campaigner Chuwit Kamolvisit, brawled with anti-election activists.

"They tried to attack me while I was trying to vote," he said.

Legal challenges

Ms Yingluck's opponents took to the streets in November after her government tried to pass an amnesty law that would potentially have allowed her brother, Thaksin, to return from exile.

Thaksin, a former prime minister who fled during a court case in 2008, is reviled by the protesters, who say he controls the government from abroad.

Disruption to candidate registration means that even if Ms Yingluck wins the election, there will not be enough MPs in parliament for her to have full power over government policy, and by-elections will be needed.

The opposition is also likely to mount legal challenges to the election.

Ms Yingluck's party is already facing a host of challenges in the courts aiming to disband it, as has happened with pro-Thaksin parties in the past.

The Democrat Party, which is allied to the protesters, has been unable to win a majority in parliament for more than two decades.

Many of its members want the government to be replaced by an unelected "people's council" that would oversee wide reform of the political system.

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