BANGKOK – Thailand’s tense national election got underway today with protesters forcing the closure of several polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.
The extent of disruptions was not immediately clear when polls opened nationwide. But there were early indications that several hundred polling stations in Bangkok and southern Thailand, an opposition stronghold, could not open because protesters had blocked the delivery of ballots or stopped voters from entering.
Whatever happens, 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 that broke out in broad daylight at a busy Bangkok intersection Saturday between government supporters and protesters intent on derailing the polls. Among the injured was a 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, where protesters vowed to fill the streets to prevent voters from reaching polling stations.