Thai polling chiefs try to work out how to fix disrupted election

BANGKOK - Thai election officials met on Thursday to try to shore up a disputed weekend ballot that was disrupted by anti-government protesters who blockaded the streets of the capital, stopping some people from voting or candidates from registering.

Sunday's poll has been challenged by the main opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted voting, and the Election Commission is already investigating possible campaigning irregularities in a long-running political conflict that shows no sign of ending.

The election would likely return caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power if it is not annulled but, whatever the result, it will not change the dysfunctional status quo after eight years of polarisation and turmoil.

Consumer confidence, which reflects views on the economy, job opportunities and future income, hit a 26-month low in January, data released on Thursday showed. "Today's meeting will cover just about every issue to do with the election including the election itself and advance voting that faced disruptions on Jan. 26," commission secretary-general Puchong Nutrawong told reporters. "We'll also discuss what to do about constituencies where candidates were unable to register," he said.

Some 28 electoral districts in the south, a stronghold of the Democrat Party, failed to register candidates after protesters blockaded candidate-registration centres in December.

It was unclear how the commission would ensure that registration could take place in those districts but it has the authority to call in troops to guard voting booths.

Anti-government protests are still blocking parts of Bangkok in the latest round of an eight-year dispute that broadly pits Bangkok's middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Ten people have been killed in sporadic bursts of violence, although the capital has been calm since the vote and the number of protesters has dwindled.

The demonstrators say Yingluck is Thaksin's puppet and the costly giveaways that won his parties every election since 2001 are tantamount to vote-buying using taxpayers' money.

They say Thaksin's new political order is tainted by graft and cronyism and want an appointed "people's council" to replace Yingluck and overhaul a political system hijacked by her brother, who lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban faces 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. More than 90 people were killed.

Suthep is to appear in court on Thursday in that case, but he failed to turn up last time around and was due to address supporters later on Thursday, making an appearance unlikely.

Protesters succeeded in disrupting voting in a fifth of constituencies in the election. The incomplete poll means Yingluck could head a caretaker administration for months, unable to make policy decisions, until vacant seats are filled.