The government decided on Tuesday to press ahead with the February
2 election, which the main opposition party plans to boycott and
despite warnings that it could lead to more violence without
resolving an increasingly bitter political divide.
"Even though protests are going on, I believe you can go out and
vote. I ask everyone involved in the election, particularly security
forces, to ensure that people can out and vote," Yingluck told
reporters on Wednesday.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of a state of
emergency imposed last week, told reporters 10,000 police would be
mobilized in the capital on polling day.
"Those who are thinking of going and shutting polling stations in
the morning should think twice because the police will not allow
them to," he told reporters.
Protesters prevented early voting at many polling stations in
Bangkok last Sunday and they have vowed to do so again.
The protesters took to the streets in November in the latest
eruption of a political conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight
years. It broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist
establishment against the mainly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck
and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives
in self-imposed exile.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of Thaksin, a man
they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who used taxpayers' money to
buy votes with costly populist giveaways.
Groups of protesters have blocked off access to several government
buildings in their bid to cripple Yingluck's administration and
Chalerm told them to clear the areas they occupy.
Tarit Pengdith, head of the Department of Special Investigation,
Thailand's equivalent of the FBI, said that from Monday, the
government would use soldiers and police to re-open government
Even though Yingluck's ruling party is certain to win, not enough
candidates have been able to register to provide a quorum in the new
parliament after the election.
By-elections will have to be held later to fill the vacant seats,
which means the prospect of a caretaker, and fairly powerless,
government under Yingluck for several more months.
ESTABLISHMENT LINED UP
The protests are taking their toll on the economy and even major
foreign investors are beginning to question the merits of ploughing
any more money into their Thai operations.
Protesters took to the streets of Bangkok again on Wednesday but in
a relatively small rally of about 500 people.
[to top of second column]
They were without their firebrand leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who was
apparently deterred by the previous day's violence in which a
protester was shot and wounded.
In a sign of how the legal establishment has largely lined up
against Yingluck's government, a criminal court on Tuesday rejected
a government application for an arrest warrant against Suthep,
saying there was not enough evidence to grant it.
Suthep is already wanted for insurrection and on charges of murder
related to violence in 2010 when, as deputy prime minister, he sent
in troops to crush protests by "red shirt" supporters of Thaksin.
The death toll then was more than 90.
Thaksin, with his huge wealth and support, is deemed a threat to the
Bangkok-based establishment, dominated by the military and the
bureaucracy, and Suthep and his followers want to eradicate the
influence of the former telecoms tycoon and his family by altering
The Election Commission, also widely seen as favoring the
establishment-aligned opposition, had been arguing for a delay in
the vote of up to four months, saying the country was too unstable
to hold an election.
There are widespread fears that violence could escalate.
So far, the military has stayed firmly on the sidelines, in contrast
to the past: it has staged or attempted 18 coups in 80 years of
Analysts say the army is nervous that this time intervention would
trigger even more violence with Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters
threatening to descend on the capital if Yingluck is overthrown.
Yingluck is Thailand's fifth prime minister since the populist
Thaksin was toppled by the army in 2006 and went into exile two
years later to escape a jail sentence that was handed down for abuse
(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak;
writing by Jonathan
Thatcher; editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
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