By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's government will deploy 10,000 police in the capital for Sunday's election, which protesters have promised to disrupt as part of their drawn-out attempt to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The government decided on Tuesday to press ahead with the February 2 election, which the main opposition party plans to boycott and despite warnings that it could lead to more violence without resolving an increasingly bitter political divide.
"Even though protests are going on, I believe you can go out and vote. I ask everyone involved in the election, particularly security forces, to ensure that people can out and vote," Yingluck told reporters on Wednesday.
Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is in charge of a state of emergency imposed last week, told reporters 10,000 police would be mobilized in the capital on polling day.
"Those who are thinking of going and shutting polling stations in the morning should think twice because the police will not allow them to," he told reporters.
Protesters prevented early voting at many polling stations in Bangkok last Sunday and they have vowed to do so again.
The protesters took to the streets in November in the latest eruption of a political conflict that has gripped Thailand for eight years. It broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist establishment against the mainly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who lives in self-imposed exile.
The protesters accuse Yingluck of being a puppet of Thaksin, a man they say is a corrupt crony capitalist who used taxpayers' money to buy votes with costly populist giveaways.
Groups of protesters have blocked off access to several government buildings in their bid to cripple Yingluck's administration and Chalerm told them to clear the areas they occupy.
Tarit Pengdith, head of the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the FBI, said that from Monday, the government would use soldiers and police to re-open government offices.
Even though Yingluck's ruling party is certain to win, not enough candidates have been able to register to provide a quorum in the new parliament after the election.
By-elections will have to be held later to fill the vacant seats, which means the prospect of a caretaker, and fairly powerless, government under Yingluck for several more months.
ESTABLISHMENT LINED UP
The protests are taking their toll on the economy and even major foreign investors are beginning to question the merits of ploughing any more money into their Thai operations.
Protesters took to the streets of Bangkok again on Wednesday but in a relatively small rally of about 500 people.
They were without their firebrand leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, who was apparently deterred by the previous day's violence in which a protester was shot and wounded.
In a sign of how the legal establishment has largely lined up against Yingluck's government, a criminal court on Tuesday rejected a government application for an arrest warrant against Suthep, saying there was not enough evidence to grant it.
Suthep is already wanted for insurrection and on charges of murder related to violence in 2010 when, as deputy prime minister, he sent in troops to crush protests by "red shirt" supporters of Thaksin. The death toll then was more than 90.
Thaksin, with his huge wealth and support, is deemed a threat to the Bangkok-based establishment, dominated by the military and the bureaucracy, and Suthep and his followers want to eradicate the influence of the former telecoms tycoon and his family by altering electoral arrangements.
The Election Commission, also widely seen as favoring the establishment-aligned opposition, had been arguing for a delay in the vote of up to four months, saying the country was too unstable to hold an election.
There are widespread fears that violence could escalate.
So far, the military has stayed firmly on the sidelines, in contrast to the past: it has staged or attempted 18 coups in 80 years of on-off democracy.
Analysts say the army is nervous that this time intervention would trigger even more violence with Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters threatening to descend on the capital if Yingluck is overthrown.
Yingluck is Thailand's fifth prime minister since the populist Thaksin was toppled by the army in 2006 and went into exile two years later to escape a jail sentence that was handed down for abuse of power.
(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Writing by Jonathan Thatcher; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)
- Politics & Government
- Unrest, Conflicts & War
- Thaksin Shinawatra
- Yingluck Shinawatra