Thai elections: No quick end in sight

BANGKOK - Voting went smoothly in about nine in 10 polling stations across Thailand on Sunday. Apart from a scuffle between a Bangkok politician and anti-government protesters, no violence was reported.

While the scenes in Thailand's general election were a welcome relief after a dramatic gunfight between pro- and anti-government supporters in the capital on Saturday, the country's political and legal paralysis is unlikely to end any time soon.

In the first place, the election commission has to hold more polls before it can tally results. On Feb 23, it will organise an election for advance voters who were blocked by anti-government protesters on the original date of Jan26. It will also need to hold another round of polls for an estimated eight million voters who could not cast their votes on Sunday.

Finally, it will have to deal with the 28 constituencies in southern Thailand - the stronghold of anti-government protesters - which were left vacant because their blockades prevented candidates from registering for those seats.

Until some of these seats are filled, the House of Representatives cannot meet the quorum to open a new session, leaving the caretaker government with limited powers.

Protesters want to implement political reforms under an unelected "people's council" as Puea Thai, which won a landslide victory in the 2011 polls, is expected to win again. Hence the protesters or their allies are likely to challenge the legality of these multiple elections.

Lawyer and social commentator Verapat Pariyawong said: "There is no doubt that the Constitutional Court will hear a case to nullify the entire election. It will be claimed that elections are held on multiple dates and faced obstacles so severe that it cannot be regarded as fair and just."

He doubts such a case will fail even if it is brought forward by someone linked to the poll disruption effort in order to stop Puea Thai from being re-elected. "History has shown that this court is willing to play politics from the bench," he said.

Over the past eight years, the court has removed two prime ministers linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra - brother of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra - who is believed to run the country from abroad.

The court also recently outlawed an attempt to change the charter, opening the way for the nation's anti-graft body to impeach Puea Thai and affiliated politicians involved in the process.

In the meantime, the caretaker government will have to deal with increasingly brazen street protesters defying Bangkok's state of emergency because the police have been careful not to create any violent conditions that might give the powerful military the excuse for a coup.

While caretaker labour minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who is in charge of a government security panel, has talked tough, civil servants locked out of their own offices by protesters have had to meet conditions imposed by protest leaders in order to continue their work.

Meanwhile, all eyes will be on the turnout for the elections, as well as the percentage of voters who chose the option on their ballot sheet of not picking any candidate. A strong turnout, coupled with a high number of "no votes", would mean that most people in the country still believe in the electoral process despite their disdain for Puea Thai.

"It will show that, even though they are sick of politics, they still want to keep the system," said Mr Verapat. "It will show there is hope."

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.