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Thai elections fail to end antigovernment protests

The day after disrupting voting in 69 out of 375 electoral districts, Thai antigovernment protesters resumed marches in Bangkok today. They seem uninterested in a negotiated end to unrest.

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Antigovernment protesters raise their hands to show that they have no weapons during a rally outside the office of the permanent secretary for defense where Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was reportedly working inside, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Thai antigovernment protesters resumed their marches in Bangkok Monday, a day after they disrupted national elections in an attempt to oust Yingluck Shinawatra from the prime minister's office.

Following protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, demonstrators marched into downtown Bangkok Monday morning, while a second group surrounded a government building where Prime Minister Yingluck was believed to be meeting with senior ministers, reports Reuters. The protesters did not enter the building, Reuters notes, and it is unclear whether the prime minister was actually inside.

But the renewed marches, a day after a national election marred by antigovernment blockades of polling stations in Bangkok and southern Thailand, underscore that the political deadlock shows no signs of breaking.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on Sunday that protesters blocked voting materials from entering some stations, while many antigovernment voters boycotted the vote elsewhere,particularly in the oppositions' southern strongholds. While the protests were largely nonviolent, they were nonetheless contentious:

At Din Daeng polling station in northern Bangkok, pro and anti-government protesters clashed on the street outside after district officials announced the polling station was not able to open because ballot boxes were blocked from delivery. ...

Voters gathered outside holding their ID cards in the air and chanting “we want to vote.”

“We’re angry because a small number of Thais don’t want democracy, it is my right to vote, we are being denied our right,” says 53-year-old Sakool Seingpairohlerd. “I have voted in every single election before this and I will lodge a complaint with local officials that they did not do more to ensure this ballot could proceed,” he adds.

Shortly afterwards, voters broke through the line of district officials and stormed Din Daeng polling station in an attempt to force it to open. However police said it was too dangerous to do so.

CNN reports that, according to election officials, voting was disrupted in 69 out of the country's 375 electoral districts and only 45.8 percent of voters participated, a precipitous drop from the 75 percent who brought Yingluck to power in 2011. As a result, the election will probably not produce enough filled seats to form a parliament, leaving Yingluck in charge as caretaker prime minister.

Still, there are signs that the protests are ebbing, which could increase the opposition's receptivity to a negotiated end. Reuters estimated the protesters numbers to be smaller than before, at about 3,000, while the national security chief told CNN that the crowds were even smaller, between 2,000 and 3,000 demonstrators.  

Thailand scholar Chris Baker told Reuters that "Suthep's movement is now crumbling," though he notes that "it still has powerful unseen backers."

"Backdoor negotiations are needed because both sides will avoid any direct confrontation in public view. The business lobby should revive its efforts to play the intermediary role," he said.

But negotiations seem not to be an option for the antigovernment protesters, according to the Bangkok Pundit blog on the Asian Correspondent news site. The pseudonymous Bangkok Pundit writes that while the government has indicated several times its willingness to find a middle ground with the opposition, the opposition has yet to show any inclination to meet them – or even say what would make them willing to meet.

"However, it should be the [opposition party] Democrats who state what they want in order for them to participate? So far they haven’t," the Pundit writes. "Yet, somehow it is the government who are uncompromising and intractable?"

And in a commentary for The Diplomat, an Asian news site, Elliot Brennan writes that the opposition's obstinacy has strengthened Yingluck's hand. Though she "was no doubt losing support as her tenure continued" due to a series of missteps, Mr. Brennan writes, "as protests become entrenched, so do allegiances. And those supporters that may have been turning from Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party have quickly fallen back to the party’s side."

Indeed, it may have been that the Democrats would have won greater support, with even a possibility – albeit a slim one – of their first majority election win in two decades, had they contested the election properly. Instead, their decision to boycott the election has thrown Thailand’s long but pot-holed democratic tradition into what may well be its darkest hour. ...

Whatever transpires, the elections will not be, at least in the short-term, the panacea that many would have hoped for. The polarization will continue, and indeed, could grow worse. More violence, a coup, or even civil war, cannot be dismissed. Both parties must step back from the precipice and negotiate – this will only become harder as time goes on.

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