Thais vote amid intense security and rising fears of violence
Taiwan News
2014-02-02 02:07 PM
Sunday, Thai voters are casting ballots amid intense security after at least seven people wounded by gunshots and explosions, including an American photojournalist when severe violence broke out between supporters and anti-government protesters at a busy Bangkok intersection late Saturday.

At least seven people were wounded in Saturday's clashes, including an American photojournalist, when gun battles broke out at a busy Bangkok intersection between government supporters and protesters intent on derailing the polls.

Most of the opponents of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra are boycotting the Sunday election. Prime Minister Yingluck called Sunday's snap election in a bid to end street protests against her government, after passage of a controversial amnesty bill seen as absolution for her older brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives abroad but faces a prison sentence in Thailand for corruption.

It is unclear whether the outcome of Sunday's election can ease confrontations or push the country deeper into political turmoil, said the Western political analysts. The anti-government protest movement strongly opposed the February 2 election. Former lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban of the opposition Democrat Party, which is actively boycotting the polls, said Thailand needed political reforms before any elections could take place and demanded Yingluck to step down, in order to end Thaksin's perceived influence over the Thai government from abroad.

According to media report, voters were obstructed during early voting, and the government plans to deploy 10,000 police in Bangkok alone on Sunday in a bid to avoid a repeat of clashes last weekend.

The pro-government "red-shirt" movement has been urging its supporters to boost the election turnout despite the threats and uncertainties. Thailand's Election Commission, overseeing the vote, said disruptions at the polls could mean months of delay and by-elections before a new 500-member House of Representatives can convene. Yingluck's government rejected the Election Commission's call to postpone the vote because of the fears of violence, and a shortage of tens of thousands of election-day volunteers. The boycott is having a noticeable effect in southern Thailand, where at least 28 districts have no registered candidates, and another two dozen have only a single candidate running unopposed.

Thailand's present political uncertainties and tensions have led to 10 deaths since November and almost 600 people injured. Economists said the political tensions have taken a toll on the economy, with $1.3 billion in lost income from tourism and the central bank warning of more economic consequences to come.

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