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Tensions Rise in Advance Voting as Opposition Groups Reportedly Shut Down Several Polling Stations in Bangkok
Severity: 3 (Moderate)
Source: Drum Cussac
01/26/2014 (Thailand) – Emerging reports from Thailand indicated that large numbers of anti-government protesters belonging to the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) have surrounded polling stations in some districts of Bangkok ahead of the advance elections on Sunday, 26 January. Polling centres in the capital were reportedly surrounded by protesters as early as 0330hrs on Sunday (2030 UTC Saturday) to prevent advance voting from taking place. Advance voting has been called off in Pathumwan, Don Mueang, Bang Bon and Dusit districts due to the disruptions. Other blockades were reported in the capital’s Din Daeng, Phya Thai, Chatuchak, Bang Khen and Sapahan Sung districts and Muang district in southern Surat Thani province, although it remains unclear whether the advance voting were affected.
The secretary-general of the Election Commission (EC) has maintained that all election officials and volunteers have been advised to stop the voting process and evacuate polling stations if protesters besiege the venue or there were serious disruptions to transportation. The EC said that in the event that polls were blocked, it would consider another round of advance voting within seven days. There were no reports of security-related incidents thus far, although it remains unclear when polling centres in the aforementioned districts would resume normal operations.
The risk rating for Thailand is currently MODERATE. Over two million Thais had registered to take part in the advance vote ahead of the scheduled elections on 2 February. Sunday’s poll is seen as a test whether elections could be held without violence given the tense political environment surrounding the polls. The PDRC and its supporters had enforced a nearly two-week shutdown of Bangkok and its environs to delay the polls while the opposition Democrat Party has said that it is boycotting the upcoming elections. The PDRC has called for the resignation of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and for the installation of an unelected “People’s Council” to implement political reforms before any elections are to take place. The government has declared a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and the provinces of Nonthaburi, Patumthani, and Samut Prakan from 21 January to deal with the unrest.
There has been speculation over whether the 2 February polls would take place as scheduled after the Constitution Court ruled on Friday, 24 January, that the elections be legally delayed because of the ongoing political unrest. The court stressed that it was the joint responsibility of Yingluck and the EC Chairman to make the decision over whether the polls should be postponed. Yingluck will reportedly meet with the EC on Tuesday, 28 January, to discuss the upcoming polls amidst looming signs of election-related chaos.
In recent weeks, the EC made several calls to delay the polls but these were rejected by the Thai government as the Constitution mandates that elections should be held no more than 60 days after the dissolution of parliament, which took place in early December 2013. Yingluck has also remained firm in her stance that the holding of elections is the only way out of the country’s political crisis. The ruling Pheu Thai party commands significant support especially with rural voters, and is seen as likely to win the polls. However the boycott by the Democrat Party, and disruptions to the candidate registration process, means that not all legislative seats would be filled to convene a quorum in Parliament. This would prevent a new government from being formed and keep the nation in crisis. The current political situation remains fluid, and it is assessed that it would be difficult to hold the 2 February elections because of possible obstructions to the electoral process.
Clients and travellers in Thailand should stay abreast of the latest related developments, and avoid all forms of public gatherings and demonstrations, especially those outside of polling stations on Sunday, to minimise the risk of exposure to potential crowd disturbances. They should remain updated on any announcement from the authorities with regards to the state of emergency in Bangkok and its environs. Heavy traffic disruptions should be anticipated along protest sites and march routes, namely Sala Daeng, Asoke, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, Victory Monument, Lat Phrao intersections in Bangkok, and at the government complex at Chaeng Watthana, due to heightened security measures and road closures.
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