April 23, 2006

Thai election reruns end with attacks, protests

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

PATTANI, Thailand (Reuters) - Thais voted in election
reruns on Sunday marred by militant attacks in the restive
Muslim south and protests against Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra's ruling party.

Preliminary results of the 40 polls, mostly in southern
strongholds of the Democrat Party that led two other opposition
parties to boycott April 2 general elections, are expected
after 1500 GMT on Sunday, local election officials said.

A top election official in Bankgok said the polls, which
drew far less than the 60 percent turnout of two previous
rounds of voting this month, could leave up to 10 parliamentary
seats empty.

That could force more reruns next weekend, scotching any
hope of a quick end to a constitutional crisis that has forced
Thaksin to cede day-to-day power.

Fear and fatigue loomed large in the Malay-speaking south
where a two-year separatist insurgency has killed more than
1,100, despite declarations from the Buddhist-dominated
government in Bangkok that it is winning against the militants.

The violence persisted on Sunday despite heavy security in
the Muslim-dominated provinces of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani
that are home to most of Thailand's 6 million Muslims.

Before voting began, unknown gunmen killed one man and
wounded a woman near a polling station in Narathiwat. The night
before, militants blew up a bus shelter in Yala and clashed
with security forces, shooting a policeman in the head.

Last week five people were killed and 30 wounded in the
region during elections for the upper house Senate.

"No matter how many elections or by-elections we have,
violence never ends in the south," Saringkan Chuwongwuth, 66,
said after voting in Yala.


Police and soldiers armed with rifles patrolled the lush,
rubber-producing region in trucks, armored vehicles and on
motorcycles after intelligence reports warned of more unrest.

Some election volunteers feared the heavy security would
only draw attacks from militants targeting police and soldiers.

"You have a 50-50 chance of surviving a militant attack
when you travel alone, but your risk is greater with an escort
from police or troops," said Ning, a village chief in

Even if violence did not disrupt voting, a solution to the
constitutional deadlock is not imminent.

Around half the 40 seats at stake are contested only by
Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) (TRT) party, but a
candidate has to get 20 percent of the eligible vote to win in
a region where the government is very unpopular.

Unless all its seats are filled, parliament cannot convene,
no new prime minister can be elected to replace Thaksin and no
new government can be formed. Thaksin has handed over
day-to-day power to Chidchai and says he will not seek the job

Election Commission secretary-general Ekachai Warunprapa
said 10 southern constituencies may require another round of
voting next weekend before the May 2 constitutional deadline
for parliament to meet within 30 days of a general election.

But some analysts say they cannot see unopposed TRT
candidates mustering the required number of votes no matter how
many reruns are held in the Muslim south where Thaksin's
government is accused of failing to tackle separatist violence.

Thaksin's unpopularity had prompted some TRT candidates to
avoid using the party logo during campaigning.

Election officials said turnout was under 50 percent in
some constituencies. At least eight angry voters tore up their
ballots in protest and could face 1 year in jail and/or a fine.

Ekachai said 7 polling stations in one constituency in the
southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat failed to open because
officials did not show up. They would be re-run on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Arada Therdthammakun in Bangkok)