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Thai election ends peacefully; results face protester delay

Kyodo

Thais voted in a controversial general election Sunday that was generally free of violence, but the official results will be delayed by voting difficulties in some parts of the country.

Polling stations around the country opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 3 p.m., but voting in some districts of Bangkok was blocked by anti-government protesters who took over district offices and refused to let polling stations open.

Ballot counting began immediately after the polling stations closed.

Nine of 77 provinces across the country announced the cancellation of voting, mostly because ballot boxes and papers could not be distributed to polling stations due to the blockades. Voting in those southern provinces has been suspended or may not be held at all.

In total, voting in 69 of 375 constituencies around the country could not take place due to interference by protesters, according to the Election Commission.

Election Commission Chairman Supachai Somchareon announced that voting was possible at 89.2 percent of the polling stations across the country.

By law, by-elections must be held within three weeks.

Speaking after the end of voting, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra expressed her gratitude to the officials involved in the election for ensuring it ran smoothly without any violence, and to voters “who exercised their rights to protect democracy.”

“The election proceeding is so far satisfying . . . I’m happy that the election could be held without violence . . . This is one step toward democracy,” she told reporters.

She also called on the authorities dealing with the election to solve unsettled electoral problems “step by step, in a peaceful manner.”

Some 138,000 police and 5,000 soldiers were deployed at more than 90,000 polling stations across the country to maintain order. On Saturday, seven people, including a Thai journalist and an American photojournalist, were injured in a clash between anti-government protesters and government supporters in a suburb of the capital.

All 500 seats of the House of Representatives are up for grabs, with 375 being selected in districts and 125 through proportional representation.

Yingluck’s ruling Pheu Thai Party is set to win by a landslide as the main opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the election.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva boycotted the election and did not cast a vote, saying the election is “unconstitutional and would not meet the objective of democratic balloting.”

About 49.27 million Thais were eligible to vote.

Protest leaders say they want to reform the country before holding a free and fair election, and that such reform can only start after the caretaker government steps down.

Yingluck called the snap election in a bid to defuse the long-running political crisis, which was triggered by a failed attempt in September by her party to introduce a controversial amnesty bill in parliament that appeared aimed at benefiting her elder brother and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was toppled in a 2006 military coup and fled the country two years later to avoid prison after being convicted of corruption and other charges.