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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Protesters fight on after Thai vote

Published 03/02/2014 | 08:17

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Supporters of the anti-government protest movement wait to catch a glimpse of passing leader Suthep Thaugsuban during a march through Bangkok (AP)

Thai protesters have vowed to stage larger rallies in central Bangkok and push ahead their efforts to nullify the results of elections that were expected to prolong a national political crisis.

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Despite fears of violence, voting proceeded peacefully in 90% of polling stations on Sunday. The protesters forced polling booths to close in Bangkok and southern Thailand, disenfranchising millions of registered voters.

As a result, not all parliamentary seats will be filled and a series of by-elections are required to complete voting, extending political paralysis for months.

After disrupting voting, protesters say they will fight the election on several grounds including that it is required by law to be held on one day.

The opposition Democrat Party, which backs the protesters and boycotted the vote, said it was studying other legal justifications to invalidate it.

The struggle to hold the polls was part of a three-month conflict that has split the country between supporters of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and opponents who allege her government is too corrupt to rule.

Demonstrators have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and forced government ministries to shut down and work elsewhere.

"We are not giving up the fight. We still keep fighting," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said. "Our mission is to keep shutting down government offices, so don't ask us to give those back."

Mr Suthep, a charismatic speaker and former opposition lawmaker, said the movement was closing two of its Bangkok protest sites and asking crowds to consolidate at five other locations, mostly in the business centre of the capital.

The new plan was bound to cause more disruption in the centre of Bangkok, where protesters have shut major intersections in the Silom and Sukhumvit business districts and Ratchaprasong shopping district, where the city's high-end shops are located.

The protesters want to suspend democracy and are demanding the government be replaced by an unelected council that would rewrite political and electoral laws to combat deep-seated problems of corruption and money politics.

Ms Yingluck has refused to step down, arguing she was elected by a landslide majority and is open to reform but that such a council would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.

The protesters are a minority that cannot win through elections, but they comprise a formidable alliance of opposition leaders, royalists and powerful businessmen who have set their sights on ousting the government.

They have won past battles - by ousting Ms Yingluck's brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, in a 2006 army coup, and by forcing out two Thaksin-allied prime ministers through controversial legal rulings.

Many believe another so-called "judicial coup" will bring down Ms Yingluck's government.

Mr Suthep's public assurance to followers that the ballot will be nullified leaves "no doubt" that the Constitutional Court will end up hearing a case to annul it, said Verapat Pariyawong, an independent Harvard-educated lawyer.

If the ballot is nullified, he said there will be "more blood on the streets," a reference to the expectation that government supporters in the north are unlikely to sit idle.

Press Association

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