Amid blockades, angry Thais demand right to vote

Angry voters demanding to vote in Din Daeng where Protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) had blocked access to the polling station. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH
Angry voters demanding to vote in Din Daeng where Protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) had blocked access to the polling station. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH
STRANDED: Protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) stop anybody from taking the ballot boxes out of the Phya Thai district office in Bangkok. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH
STRANDED: Protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) stop anybody from taking the ballot boxes out of the Phya Thai district office in Bangkok. -- ST PHOTO: NIRMAL GHOSH

The ballot boxes stood in neat rows. But they weren’t going anywhere.

Protesters from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) stopped anybody from taking them out of the Phya Thai district office in Bangkok to distribute to voting stations.

Outside, more protesters sat on the pavement and out on the street, continuing their months-long campaign to delegitimise the election and hound the Yingluck Shinawatra government out of office.

About 100 metres away, a bus was parked across the street. Roadblocks of rubber tyres were scattered around the area. Voting in this district had been suspended. Inside the district office, three unarmed army soldiers watched the crowd outside impassively. There were no police in sight.

“Thailand was a beacon for the electoral system in the region,” said a foreign observer from an international organisation, who asked not to be named, at Phya Thai. “I’m here to observe this sad situation.”

A few streets away at Din Daeng, a short walk from the PDRC protest site at the Victory Monument roundabout, PDRC protesters had blocked access to the polling station. In one incident in the morning, when a group of voters tried to press through, there was apparently an altercation.

“Then someone pulled out a handgun and fired one shot, and that was it, they went away,” an eyewitness said. When asked who had fired the shot, he shrugged.

Just before noon, voters came back to demand their right to vote. Many held up their Thai national identity cards defiantly. Thailand was a democracy, they shouted. They had a right to vote!

They marched to the compound where the polling station was located. The gate was locked with a chain. In just a few minutes the voters managed to barge through and flooded the grounds. They talked angrily with a local official, who kept calm and promised there would be a by-election in three weeks.

“I vote in every election. I wanted to vote today but it is closed,” said Penjan Sensuk, 55, a snack food stall owner. “Now Thais don’t know who to listen to. Both sides are shouting so much it’s hard to tell the truth.”

There was an air of tension in the streets – especially since the previous day had seen a gun battle between pro- and anti-government groups in Bangkok’s Laksi district which left around half a dozen injured. But it was limited to areas where the PDRC has actively been flooding the streets for weeks.

The PDRC’s rally sites were in their usual daily festive mode, celebrating what PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban had called a day not exactly blocking the vote, but of picnicking on the streets – in effect making it difficult for voters to get access to the targeted polling stations, or as in the case of Phya Thai, blocking ballot boxes from being distributed to polling stations.

Elsewhere, voting was peaceful but appeared to be subdued – and security seemed light. In the low-income Klong Toey area – which is largely pro-government “red shirt” territory – a polling station had almost no security, and was seeing just a trickle of voters, an election worker said.

Many analysts are waiting to hear the turnout figures both in Bangkok and nationwide, as an indicator of the public mood.

nirmal@sph.com.sg