Imperfect poll goes ahead today with violence expected
After nearly two months of protests by anti-government protesters Thailand will be voting in a snap general election today. Although the lead up to the election has been marred by violence and the anti-government protesters have attempted to disrupt the polls the election is going ahead, albeit without the main opposition Democrat Party which supports the protesters (they call themselves the People’s Democratic Reform Committee; PDRC).
Advance polling for 2 million eligible voters started on 26th January. Things went smoothly in the North and rural areas where the ruling Pheu Thai Party are strongest, but polling was badly disrupted in the South and Bangkok where the anti-government protesters (and Democrat Party) are strongest. The Bangkok Post reports that advance polling was disrupted in 89 constituencies and around 400,000 people were stopped from exercising their right to vote.
Normally, around 48.7 million people are eligible to vote in 375 constituencies with the balance of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives being made up via a party list system. For parliament to sit there must be 475 seats filled, but 28 constituencies were unable to carry out registration due to the protests and will have to be called as by-elections after 2nd February.
That means that a maximum of 472 seats can be filled today, three short of the quorum required. The Electoral Commission says it could take up to six months to complete the by-elections. There are a further 22 seats with only one candidate and the single candidate must gain more than 20% of eligible votes to be elected.
In recent days a grass roots campaign has been building momentum called ‘Respect my vote’. Despite the protests many people, even those that do not support Pheu Thai, have turned against the protesters for attempting to block a legitimate democratic election. It seems clear that Pheu Thai will win the majority of constituencies able to hold elections today. The problem remains as to whether they can govern after the election and whether the army will intervene as they have, all too often, in the past.
Because voting is expected to be severely disrupted the Electoral Commission has put in place a further round of voting for 23rd February in constituencies affected. Today some 93,305 polling stations will attempt to conduct the poll between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. local time.
Foreigners have been advised to stay indoors during the day as rival groups are likely to clash violently.