Protesters swarmed around two Bangkok buildings to block candidates from registering for Thailand’s Feb. 2 vote, which the demonstrators have vowed to disrupt as they push for an unelected government.
Thirty-four parties, including the ruling party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, were able to apply for the polls today, the first of a five-day registration period, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn told reporters in Bangkok. Not registering was the main opposition Democrat Party, which announced Dec. 21 that it would boycott the election.
The Democrats are closely aligned with the protest movement led by former party powerbroker Suthep Thaugsuban, who is seeking to erase the political influence of Yingluck’s family. The demonstrations have sent the baht to the weakest level in more than three years on concern prolonged unrest will hurt Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.
“Even though it’s quite difficult to open the application today, the Election Commission understands the situation,” Election Commissioner Dhirawat Dhirarojvit said at the same briefing. “If it still doesn’t improve, we will assess it again. We aim to hold a fair election.”
More than 250,000 protesters took to the streets of Bangkok yesterday, the latest in a series of mass protests aimed at toppling Yingluck. The protesters say her government is illegitimate, run from abroad by her brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and faces a two-year jail term for corruption if he returns.
Demonstrators are calling for Thailand to suspend electoral democracy, saying the nation’s rural poor are influenced by Thaksin’s populist policies. Before elections are held they want a council of “good people” to rewrite the political rules.
“If you don’t accept the government, please accept the system,” Yingluck said yesterday in Udon Thani province in the northeast. “Please accept the election rules because we already returned the power to the people.”
Thailand’s SET Index (SET) of shares dropped 1.2 percent to 1,326.14, the lowest close since Sept. 5. The gauge is the worst-performing benchmark in Southeast Asia this year. The baht fell 0.2 percent to 32.670 per dollar in Bangkok, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The currency touched 32.773 earlier, the weakest level since June 7, 2010.
Yingluck dissolved parliament on Dec. 9 and announced the polls, a day after the Democrats resigned en masse to join the demonstrations. For most of the past two weeks, Yingluck has been campaigning to large crowds in the north and northeast, the nation’s poorest and most populous regions, where her party maintains broad support.
The Democrats, with a support base largely in urban Bangkok and the Thai south, have lost every national election since 1992. The party previously boycotted an election in April 2006, when Thaksin was prime minister, on the grounds that the political system needed reform.
That vote was later invalidated when a court found Thaksin’s party guilty of violating election laws. Thaksin was ousted before another election could be held.
Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong told reporters Dec. 21 the boycott won’t affect the elections. Based on preliminary talks, he said, 45 parties are ready to participate.
The protesters attempted to disrupt today’s candidate registration at a sports stadium in central Bangkok, blocking all the entrances to the complex.
Nine parties were still able to submit applications there, while a further 25 parties submitted documents at a nearby police station after filing complaints against the protesters, said Somchai, the election commissioner.
The protesters later surrounded the police station and cut off water and electricity to the building, police spokesman Piya Uthayo said at a separate briefing. He warned the protesters that they were violating election laws by stopping the Election Commission from performing its duty.
Suthep has said the protests will continue until Yingluck gives up and his appointed council is in place.
“If the situation continues till February 2 and we cannot seize the country by then, we will close down the country on February 2,” he told supporters yesterday. “No one can go for a vote.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Suttinee Yuvejwattana in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org; Chris Blake in Bangkok at email@example.com
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