Mass rally on poll day

national January 30, 2014 00:00


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PDRC vows complete city shutdown; urges boycott of vote; 200,000-plus police to be deployed nationwide

SUTHEP THAUGSUBAN, leader of the ongoing anti-government protest, yesterday threatened to bring Bangkok to a “complete shutdown” on election day, while half of the 400,000-strong national police force is expected to be deployed to maintain law and order on the day.

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) will start marching down the streets of Bangkok from today until Saturday, before calling for another mass rally on Sunday, he said.

“On February 2, we will completely shut down Bangkok. Roads will be turned into pedestrian walkways and people will not have to go to vote,” he announced on stage at the Lumpini Park protest site last night.

He also called on eligible voters to join the PDRC at its protest sites across the capital instead. “Don’t regret losing out on your rights [from not voting],” he said.

According to Suthep, the protest marches over the next three days would cover Sukhumvit, Ratchadaphisek and Silom roads, as well as Yaowaraj, where Chinatown is located.

Three mass rallies had been called by the PDRC in November and December, attended by several thousands of people, before the start of its “Bangkok shutdown” campaign on January 13 to force the caretaker Cabinet to resign and pave the way for national reforms.

A PDRC source said it planned to besiege half of the ballot stations in Bangkok although it would attempt to disrupt voting in all 50 districts of the capital.

Assistant national police chief Pol Lt Gen Amnart An-atngam said yesterday that more than 250,000 policemen would be deployed, in addition to 1,450 rapid-deployment units on standby at police stations.

The focus would be on polling stations in Bangkok and 10 provinces in the South where advance voting was disrupted last Sunday by protesters, he added.

He said that advance voting was held without any incidents in more than 80 per cent of the polling stations. He expected a similar situation, largely without violence, this Sunday when eligible voters go to the polls at 93,535 voting stations in all 77 provinces.

He said the police have security plans for election officials and ballot papers and noted that shipments of ballot papers for the South remained blocked at the region’s three major postal centres.

Protesters linked to the PDRC yesterday blockaded the three centres in Songkhla’s Hat Yai district, Nakhon Si Thammarat’s Thung Song district, and Chumphon’s Muang district. As a result, ballot papers sent by mail from the Election Commission (EC) in Bangkok to those post offices could not be distributed to other southern provinces. The protesters said they planned to blockade the post offices until election day.

Songkhla’s election head, Anont Manasvanit, said if the blockade continued, it was likely that ballot papers would not reach the voting stations in time for the election.

EC chairman Supachai Somcharoen said in Bangkok he expected the blockade to affect voting in the South as the polling stations would not have ballot papers.

In Bangkok, the directors of three districts – Bang Kapi, Bang Kho Laem and Yan Nawa – have resigned as election officials ex-officio following threat of legal action by those affected by the disruption of advance voting, said Ninnart Chalitanont, permanent secretary of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration. Ninnart said they would be replaced and she did not think Sunday’s voting would be affected.

Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, who is also leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, yesterday said he has instructed provincial governors to campaign for eligible voters to turn out in large numbers this Sunday.

The Centre for Maintaining Peace and Order has assigned four agencies to take possible legal action against people and organisations that provide financial assistance to the PDRC, Department of Special Investigation chief Tarit Pengdith was speaking after a meeting yesterday.

The Army has sent its soldiers to help maintain peace and security for both officials and protesters, Army deputy spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree said.

Soldiers would conduct patrols around the protest sites and there were rapid-deployment units in case of emergency, he said.