Thai protesters step up campaign to disrupt elections
Bangkok: Thai opposition protesters on Monday stepped up their campaign to disrupt upcoming elections, trying to block candidate registrations as part of efforts to banish Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family from politics.
The main opposition Democrat Party, which has not won an elected majority in parliament in about two decades, has vowed to boycott the February 2 polls called by Yingluck following weeks of street rallies by her opponents.
It is the latest chapter in a years-old political crisis which broadly pits Bangkok-based elite against mostly rural and poor supporters of Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a divisive former premier who was ousted in a coup in 2006.
At least 150,000 people joined the latest anti-Thaksin mass protest in the capital on Sunday, according to an estimate from National Security Council chief Paradorn Pattanatabut. Organisers said the turnout was much higher.
Hundreds of demonstrators on Monday surrounded a stadium in Bangkok where representatives of political parties were trying to register to run in the polls ahead of the December 27 deadline.
Nine parties managed to enter although officials were unable to fully complete their registration, Election Commission official Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said at a news conference.
He said about two dozen parties filed complaints with the police because they were prevented from entering.
The demonstrators' self-proclaimed People's Democratic Reform Committee is calling for an unelected “people's council” to be installed to oversee sweeping but loosely-defined reforms before new elections in around a year to 18 months.
They have vowed to rid Thailand of the “Thaksin regime” and oppose the election, saying it will only bring another government allied to the former premier, who fled the country in 2008 to avoid jail for a corruption conviction he contends is politically motivated.
The protesters have appealed for the support of the army, but the military has indicated it will not step in directly at this stage, in a country which has seen 18 successful or attempted coups since 1932.
The party last took power in 2008 by parliamentary vote after a court stripped Thaksin's allies of power, angering his “Red Shirt” supporters who launched mass street protests three years ago that ended in a military crackdown that left dozens dead.
Democrat leader and former premier Abhisit Vejjajiva has been indicted for murder over the crackdown along with his ex-deputy Suthep Thaugsuban who is leading the street protests.