By The Nation
Advance voting for the national election was disrupted yesterday by violence, with the murder of an anti-government protest leader and a dozen people injured. This includes voters who wanted to cast ballots.
Police have said they will boost security, with 10 times the number of guards for the election next Sunday (February 2), which the government insists will go ahead.
Suthin Taratin, leader of People’s Army to Overthrow the Thaksin Regime, was killed in an incident in Bang Na in which 10 others were injured. This took place outside a polling station when protesters were confronted by a pro-government mob during the campaign to derail the voting.
There were four incidents yesterday in different parts of Bangkok as anti-government protesters tried to prevent advance voting. Protesters confronted election officials at many polling stations while disputes broke out at many other places with voters and pro-government groups, police spokesman Piya Uthayo said. Police will boost their forces by 10 times the number used yesterday to provide security for the election next Sunday, he said, and would try to stop clashes between protesters and pro-government groups or voters, he said.
Protesters blamed the government and demanded that it take responsibility for the violence but vowed to continue to disrupt the election, leader Suthep Thaugsuban said. He called last night for troops to ensure the People’s Democratic Reform Committee are safe from violence.
The PDRC regards their disruption of advance voting yesterday as a victory against the government. “The protesters always won over the government in all targeted areas,” PDRC core leader Thaworn Senniam said.
Most polling stations in the South and 90 per cent of venues in Bangkok were completely shut down, he said.
Of the 375 constituencies in the country, 89 were unable to open for advance voting, according to Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, an election commissioner supervising elections. Only 440,000 or 22 per cent of the two million registered voters managed to cast their ballots, he said, but noted that the turnout was low even though most constituencies experienced no disruption.
Surapong Tovichakchaikul, supervisor of the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, condemned the interference as a violation of the law and derailing of Thai democracy.
But most polling went smoothly. “The government insists that the election (on February 2) will go on as planned. Only 10 per cent were disrupted and the people who intervened in the voting will be punished by law,” he said.
Surapong blamed the Election Commission (EC) for failing to ask for help from the government to provide safety for voters, and claiming some commissioners had “cooperated” with protesters.
The government would sue the EC for misconduct under Article 157 of the Criminal Code, he said.
EC chairman Supachai Somchareon said the government had the right to do that but the commission could defend itself and explain the situation.
“We have done our best and believe that the court will listen to us,” he said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plans to meet members of the EC tomorrow to discuss election arrangements.
Somchai said he will propose that the government set a new election date, as the EC may not be able to run the ballot on Feb 2 smoothly. The EC had not cooperated with protesters to disrupt the election, he said.
The Constitutional Court ruled on Friday that the election could be held on a new date if it could not be held as per the original schedule. The court said the government and the EC must fix the new date.
Supachai said the EC was thinking of postponing the election but if the government wanted to continue and stage the poll, the EC may have no choice but to do that.
“If the government insists, we will go on although it’s clear that we won’t have 95 per cent of winners for the opening of Parliament,” he said.