BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Extra security will be provided for Thailand's caretaker prime minister and some political VIPs when they go to vote on Sunday.
The move comes amid rising concern of possible clashes and violence between anti-government protesters and supporters of the government.
Problems in holding the election have been mounting. Ballot boxes and papers have not reached local election offices in many areas, particularly in the South, due to a blockade by protesters. And there is a severe shortage of officials to man polling stations after many of them resigned.
Police will work with soldiers in providing security for key Cabinet ministers, such as PM Yingluck Shinawatra and Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, to prevent risks of disorder or disruption when they go to vote, police sources said.
Mr Chalerm is head of the government's Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, which is in charge of the state of emergency currently in effect in Bangkok, Nonthaburi, and part of Pathum Thani and Samut Prakan.
The prime minister said on Friday she would exercise her right to vote and asked protesters not to prevent others from going to the polls.
"I appeal to you not to block voting. Foreign countries will view Thailand as undemocratic," she said.
Ms Yingluck is expected to vote at a polling station at Klong Lam Chiak School near her home in Lat Phrao, while Mr Chalerm will vote at Wat Bang Bon School near his home in Bang Bon district.
National police chief Police General Adul Sangsingkaew and other senior officers, including Metropolitan Police commissioner Police Lt-General Camronwit Thoopkrajank, are expected to go in person to take care of those two polling stations, sources said.
Mr Camronwit said extra police and military personnel would be sent to those polling stations to ensure security for the VIPs going to vote.
More than 200,000 police will be deployed nationwide to keep law and order on the election day and they will be assisted by 7,000 soldiers in the areas where the state of emergency is in place, said Police Lt-General Amnart An-atngam, who heads the police's centre to maintain peace during the election.
Mr Adul, the national police chief, said that there was concern that polling stations in some provinces may be disrupted by protesters, including Bangkok, Samut Songkhram, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Songkhla, Phatthalung, and Trang. Earlier in the day, he chaired a meeting of police units to prepare for the election.
He said police would attempt to prevent a repeat of violence last Sunday, when a protester was shot dead and many others were injured.
The Election Commission has advised election officials to end voting at polling stations if there is a risk of violence or turmoil, election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiy-akorn said. A new round of voting would be called for eligible voters who fail to exercise their right if polling stations are closed prematurely, he said.
The Army will dispatch unarmed soldiers to help police maintain security at polling booths, as requested by the Election Commission and the Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order, Army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said.
However, the soldiers would just be around the polling stations, he added.
The First Area Army would keep a close eye on 10 districts in Bangkok for possible clashes between conflicting sides, a source revealed. They are Sai Mai, Don Mueang, Bang Kapi, Wang Thong Lang, Lak Si, Bang Na, Bang Bon, Suan Luang, Min Buri and Bueng Kum.
In a related development, an opinion poll has found that 36.5 per cent of 1,403 respondents were worried there would be violence on the election day, according to results of Rajabhat Suan Dusit University's Suan Dusit Poll released on Friday.