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Violence Gives Way To Calmer Thai Elections


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Voters went to the polls in Thailand today in a snap election called by the ruling party. The elections seem to have gone off fairly peacefully, but they were proceeded by violent clashes between government supporters, known as Red Shirts, and protesters backing the opposition. Last night, at least seven people were injured in Bangkok by gunfire and grenades. Reporter Michael Sullivan is with us now from Bangkok to tell us more. Hi, Michael.


MARTIN: You were out in Bangkok at various polling stations. What did you see?

SULLIVAN: I went to three or four different polling stations in different parts of the city. And for the most part, voting went smoothly. However, at one voting station that I went to in the Din Daeng district, there was no voting because the anti-government protesters were not letting people who wanted to come to vote, vote. They were blocking access to the polling station. And even though there was a very large police presence there and a very large army presence there, neither the police nor the army did anything. And it really angered these people who were waiting to vote, who were trying to vote, who were waving their identity cards and saying, we want to vote. And I think you have a little tape of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: My vote, respect my vote, respect my vote.

MARTIN: And we heard them there saying respect my vote, respect my vote.

SULLIVAN: Basically, these people were disenfranchised today. That's something that they felt very strongly about and they were angry about. And in fact, at one point, at Din Daeng, they actually broke through the police and tried to charge the polling station and the anti-government protesters said, no, you're not coming here and there was a couple of gunshots. Then that was it. Everyone disbursed very quickly. No one wanted to make a big deal about it.

MARTIN: So, Michael, blocking access to polls doesn't sound very democratic, and that was actually the opposition party perpetrating that, and that's the party that says it wants to bring real democracy to Thailand. So, what does that mean?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, well, it's a loose alliance. I mean, the opposition that's been in the streets for the past couple of months is not the opposition party per se, but the main opposition party has joined them and in fact boycotted these polls. And they say that the caretaker prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, just need to go away, that Yingluck needs to go away and that her family needs to go away to be removed from Thai politics forever. Her brother is the deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who the army kicked out in 2006. And the opposition says that Thaksin is basically running things from exile in Dubai. And they want the Thaksin family removed from Thai politics forever, and they say they're not giving up in that effort.

MARTIN: Protests, emergencies, even coups are nothing new for Thailand. As a global economy, it is known though for bouncing back, but could it possibly be different this time? Its economic growth is already starting to slow.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, well, the whole region's economic growth is starting to slow, right? So, if you have political instability in Thailand here again, then some companies might start to think twice about making any new investment here, although I don't think you're going to see anyone who is here already leave. But I'll tell you one thing that's really hurting right now. This is the peak tourist season here in Thailand right now, and hotel occupancy is suffering tremendously and local businesses here are suffering because of that. Tourism is a very big deal here. I think it contributes about a tenth of the economy here, so that's a very bad thing here right now. And this political uncertainty, this deadlock, it shows no sign of abating any time soon just because this election was held today.

Having said that, the election did go off today even though the opposition said they would not allow it to. So, in a sense, you can say Thai democracy might be a little wobbly right now but it's still standing.

MARTIN: And any sense, Michael, as to when results might be announced? What comes next?

SULLIVAN: The election commission can't announce any results for at least a couple of weeks, and here's why. They have to have elections in 28 constituencies where protesters did not allow candidates to register in the first place. And they have to find a way to allow the disenfranchised voters who tried to vote but weren't allowed to, to vote. So, they don't think that's going to happen before the end of the month.

MARTIN: Reporter Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Thanks so much, Michael.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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