bangkok thailand protest shinawatra suthep red shirt

Heightened security at the Grand Palace, one of Bangkok’s favourite tourist destinations. (Photo by the author.)

With protesters still shutting down many of Bangkok's main arteries, the Thai capital today is congested with traffic and filled with uncertainty. Sunday’s election offered no reprieve (results are still unknown), the barricades remain, and anti-government protesters continue to rally around their embattled leader Suthep Thaungsuban. 

Police said yesterday that 11,000 people reported being obstructed from voting in Sunday's poll by Suthep's Red Shirt protesters, who blocked polling and candidate registration areas. The true number is certainly higher. Only 333 of 375 constituencies were able to conduct voting, according to the Election Commission. Voter turnout gave the best indication of the level of disruption. Only 46% of Thailand's 49 million eligible voters came out to vote, down from 73% in the 2011 election.

Other than the protests, the low turnout is due to a few things: (i) the opposition Democrat party boycotting the election and urging supporters to do so; (ii) general fear, and in some areas a real threat, of violence at voting booths; and (iii) reports of corruption in government affecting voters' belief in the system as free and fair. 

A series of by-elections will be needed and thus official election results won't come until 23 February at the earliest. However, unofficial results reported in Thai media yesterday suggest that Yingluck Shinawatra's Pheu Thai party had won the vote count.

The Democrat party yesterday lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court against Yingluck's Pheu Thai party, calling for Pheu Thai to be dissolved for ignoring the recommendation of the Election Commission to postpone the election. These anticipated moves to try to block the caretaker government are the latest in a series of legal battles between the two sides.

While the Democrat party will continue to push for the election result to be dismissed, the caretaker government is likely to continue its attempts to dismantle the opposition and protesters through legal rather than forceful means.

Street vendors at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok sell anti-government paraphernalia. (Photo by the author.)

A ruling is due today in the Criminal Court to approve arrest warrants for protest leaders, among them Suthep Thaungsuban and former general Preecha Iamsuphan. The insurrection charge against Suthep carries the death penalty, although such punishment is rarely used in Thailand.

For Suthep, however, that would be the biggest of gambles, so it is no surprise he is digging his heels in. Suthep yesterday declared a renewed push to occupy government offices. The emergency decree will allow security forces to protect government buildings with far more power than in January when the shutdown began.

If the Court rules to approve the arrest warrants, further clashes are likely.