Thailand to go ahead with election despite protests, boycott
A Thai soldier, right, stands guarding as anti-government protesters stage a rally during the cabinet meeting at the Army Club Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP / Wally Santana)
Thanyarat Doksone, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, January 28, 2014 6:35AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 28, 2014 8:29AM EST
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's government announced Tuesday it will go ahead with an election this weekend despite an opposition boycott, months of street protests and the likelihood of more violence in the country's political crisis.
The government made the announcement after a meeting between Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and the Election Commission, which had sought a delay in the polls.
The decision to hold Sunday's parliamentary balloting will further inflate tensions and chances of violence. A protest leader was killed and about a dozen others were injured in a clash last Sunday as protesters swarmed dozens of polling stations to stop advance voting. Since Nov. 30, 10 people have died and at least 577 have been injured.
The crisis pits followers and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra against each other. Thaksin, a billionaire who is Yingluck's older brother, was deposed by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power, and since then the two sides have been engaged in a sometimes violent struggle for power.
Anti-government protesters occupying parts of Bangkok are demanding that Yingluck step down before any election, and that she be replaced by a non-elected interim government that would institute reforms to remove her family's influence from politics. The opposition Democrat Party, which backs the protests, is boycotting the election.
Yingluck's supporters, including many people in the countryside who benefited from Thaksin's populist policies, are demanding that they be allowed to vote.
Several hundred protesters laid siege to Tuesday's meeting between Yingluck and the Election Commission. Two people were injured, one seriously with a gunshot wound, as violence broke out on the fringes of the crowd.
The Election Commission said more violence was likely during the polls and would further damage the country.
"I think Thailand has suffered enough and no one should be hurt or die from this election," Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters.
Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana said the commission and government had different views and the election would therefore go ahead. A court ruled last week that the election could only be postponed by mutual agreement between the prime minister and the Election Commission.
"If we postpone the election, will the problems go away? The people who are causing trouble didn't say they would stop if it's postponed," Pongthep said. "The longer it is postponed, the more damage it will cause the people and the country."
Some protesters pushed their way onto the compound of the Army Club, where the meeting was held. They did not enter any buildings, which were guarded by police and soldiers.
The protesters are seeking to stop the government from operating, and have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and closed down many government buildings.
Increased protest-related violence spurred the government last week to declare a state of emergency covering Bangkok and surrounding areas. The measure allows curtailment of many normal civil liberties and criminalizes many of the activities carried out by the protesters, but no substantive action has yet been taken.
Protesters are likely to try to block the voting on Sunday. If the election fails to fill 95 per cent of the lower house seats, Parliament will be unable to convene.
Yingluck and her ruling Pheu Thai party are also facing several lawsuits that could eventually force them from office.
Associated Press writers Jinda Wedel and Grant Peck contributed to this report.
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