Dozens of gunshots and at least two explosions raised tensions amid anti-government protests in the Thai capital yesterday, a day ahead of a general election seen as incapable of restoring stability in the deeply polarized country.
At least three people were wounded in the violence in front of a suburban shopping mall in the north of Bangkok. Gunmen among the crowds could be seen hiding their weapons before backing away from the shooting.
Sporadic gunfire continued as the sun began to set.
It was not immediately clear whether the demonstrators or those wounded were the government’s supporters or its opponents, some of whom are aiming to block ballotting in an election almost certain to return Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power.
The attack took place in Bangkok’s Laksi District, close to Don Muang airport, a stronghold of Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party. Her supporters had gathered to demand that the elections push through.
Ten people have died and at least 577 have been wounded in politically related violence since late November.
The protesters took to the streets in the latest round of an eight-year conflict broadly between Bangkok’s middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup.
Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for a peaceful blockade of roads, but at the same time has vowed not to stop people voting.
“The people will not close the polling booths, but will demonstrate on the roads. They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without violence... We won’t do anything that will hinder people from going to vote,” Suthep said on Friday night.
Thai Election Commission Secretary-General Puchong Nutrawong said preparations were “almost 100 percent ready” in the north, northeast and central provinces, but that there were problems getting ballots to districts in Bangkok, as well as 12 provinces in the south, where demonstrators had blocked delivery.
The commission has instructed staff to halt voting if there is rioting or violence.
“We don’t want this election to be bloody. We can get every single agency involved to make this election happen, but if there’s blood, what’s the point?” Puchong said.
“If there is continued obstruction, I pray only that there is no fighting and no coup,” Puchong said.
Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn wrote on Facebook about the possibility of the poll being voided altogether.
“After the Feb. 2 vote, there will be people filing lawsuits for the election to be voided immediately, citing various reasons that they will put forward, such as the general election must be held on one day or violate the constitution, which would make it likely that 3.8 billion baht [US$115 million] will have been spent for nothing,” Somchai wrote.
Puchong said the commission was doing its best to adhere to the law and any speculation about the vote being annulled was for the courts to decide.