BANGKOK: Thai anti-government protesters besieged polling stations in Bangkok on Sunday and forced most to close, hampering advance voting for next weekend’s election and deepening doubts about whether it can go ahead.
More than two million people are registered for advance voting before the February 2 election, which was called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to try to defuse rising political tensions after weeks of mass anti-government protests.
Protesters descended on scores of polling stations in the Thai capital and several southern provinces, stopping ballot officials from entering and prompting election authorities to shut at least 45 venues.
Their action denied the franchise to thousands of registered voters and flouted a government-imposed state of emergency invoked to ease fears of violence in the run-in to next Sunday’s poll.
There were no immediate reports of serious clashes but television reported minor scuffles between voters and protesters at some polling stations.
“Forty-five polling stations had to be closed out of 50 in Bangkok,” said Surapong Tovichakchaikul, deputy prime minister and one of the main figures at the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, which is handling the crisis.
Election Commission Secretary General Puchong Nutrawong earlier confirmed mass polling station closures after officials “could not go inside because of the protesters.”
Away from the capital voting went ahead in 66 of the country’s 76 provinces, including the ruling party’s heartlands in the north and northeast.
Yingluck, who has so far refused to resign or delay the poll, is set to meet elections officials on Tuesday after the Constitutional Court ruled that the general election could legally be delayed because of the crisis.
The demonstrators, who have staged a near two-week “shutdown” of Bangkok to try to derail the vote, have rejected the election.
Advance voting is routinely offered for those who cannot cast their ballot on polling day. But Sunday’s exercise was seen as a test of the prospects of holding next Sunday’s vote peacefully.