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Thai vote goes peacefully, but political paralysis looms

BANKOK: Elections in Thailand passed off peacefully on Sunday but the country was no nearer to ending its intractable political conflict, with the government facing the prospect of months of paralysis, protests and complex legal challenges.

Voting was disrupted in about a fifth of the country's constituencies, but no major violence was reported, despite armed clashes between supporters and opponents of embattled Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra that wounded seven people on the eve of the ballot.

Voting ended at 3 p.m. (0800 GMT), but no results will be announced on Sunday, meaning little change to an uneasy status quo. Yingluck will remain caretaker premier for weeks, facing continued anti-government protests and the prospect of a slew of legal challenges aimed at invalidating the poll.

The usual campaign billboards, glossy posters and pre-election buzz were noticeably absent this time, as were many voters fearful of violence or bent on rejecting a ballot bound to re-elect the political juggernaut controlled by Yingluck's billionaire brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Former premier Thaksin, 64, is loved and loathed, but his parties have won every poll since 2001. His opponents say he is a corrupt crony capitalist who tailored policy to enrich himself and ruling by proxy from exile in Dubai, where he lives to evade jail time for graft.

Further voting is already scheduled for February 23 after problems with advance balloting last Sunday, while polls in nine southern provinces where candidates were unable to register may not happen for weeks.

"To those of you who went out and prevented ballot boxes from being delivered, thank you," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech at one of seven rally sites in Bangkok, where anti-Thaksin sentiment is strong.

Voting was disrupted in 18 percent or 69 of 375 constituencies nationwide, the Election Commission said, affecting 18 of 77 provinces, where demonstrators calling for an appointed government succeeded in sabotaging the vote.

With the main opposition Democrat Party boycotting the poll, Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win comfortably.

Its leader said the election showed the public believed in democracy.

"The people are not afraid and they came out to vote today," said Jarupong Ruangsuawan, who is also Interior Minister. "We've fought hard for democracy in Thailand and we proved that most Thais believe in the democratic process."

Even if the result were known, victory celebrations for Yingluck would probably be muted. With many parliamentary seats unfilled, she could be exposed to legal attacks, intensified protests and unable to pass bills and budgets crucial to reviving the economy, Southeast Asia's second-biggest.

Source: Reuters




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