BANGKOK - Thai voters go to the polls under heavy security on Sunday in an election that could push the divided country deeper into political turmoil and leave the winner paralysed for months by street protests, legal challenges and legislative limbo.
The risk of bloodshed at the ballot remains high, a day after seven people were wounded by gunshots and explosions during a standoff between supporters and opponents of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a north Bangkok stronghold of her Puea Thai Party.
The usual campaign billboards, glossy posters and pre-election buzz have been notably absent this time, as will be millions of voters fearful of poll violence or bent on rejecting a ballot bound to re-elect the political juggernaut controlled by Yingluck's billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, 64, is loved and loathed in Thailand, but his parties have won every poll since 2001. His opponents say he is a corrupt crony capitalist who rules by proxy from self-exile in Dubai.
Victory celebrations would be likely muted for Yingluck. With parliamentary seats unable to be filled and the prospect of violence disrupting voting, she could find herself on shaky ground, exposed to legal attacks and unable to pass bills and budgets crucial to reviving a stuttering economy.
Yingluck last week refused to postpone the election, even though a fifth of those registered for advanced voting were unable to cast ballots after protesters blocked polling stations in 49 of 50 Bangkok districts as part of a "shutdown" of key intersections in the city. In 28 southern constituencies, no votes will be cast because no candidates could sign up.
Some 130,000 security forces will be deployed across the country, 12,000 in Bangkok, National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattantabutr told Reuters. "We're confident there won't be too much chaos," he said.
Polling stations open at 8 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Sunday and the Election Commission says results will not be available on the day. Its commissioners are worried about unrest and are braced for a deluge of complaints and challenges to the results.
"There's been a lot of obstruction, so much, every single step of the way," commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong told Reuters.
"We don't want this election to be a bloody election. We can get every single agency involved to make this election happen, but if there's bloodshed, what's the point?"