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Thailand Election Ballot Boxes 'Held Hostage'

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Eight o'clock in the morning in the heart of Bangkok and the chairs were still piled up at one street-side polling station.

Photographs of the parliamentary candidates were flapping in the breeze and the tables were empty.

The sandbags, which had been readied to protect election officials from any attempts to sabotage the voting, were still in place, but there were no election officials, or indeed any police or army officers, which the caretaker government had promised would ensure voters could exercise their democratic right.

One kilometre away, the ballot boxes, which should have been in use at the deserted polling station, were being held hostage by anti-government protesters.

"We have been here since four o'clock this morning," said one elderly Thai lady, sitting cross-legged in front of dozens of cardboard ballot boxes, in neat rows.

"Whatever happens, we will not let anyone cast a vote for this illegitimate, corrupt government."

The tactic was certainly effective. Many more ballot boxes remained trapped in post offices and district offices across the capital and the country, especially in the south, where entire provinces had to cancel the election before it even got under way, including in major tourist areas such as Phuket, Krabi and Koh Samui.

Thailand's Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn could not cast his vote because no election officials arrived to staff his polling station.

Mr Srisutthiyakorn had been saying all week the vote would be a failure and should have been postponed. T

he sight of the man reluctantly in charge of the election administration, standing on the pavement for 20 minutes waiting to see if anybody would come, summed up the farce the Thai snap election had become.

The elected Bangkok Governor, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, apparently tweeted on his Twitter account that his heart was with the protesters and he was only voting because he was forced to.

Voting is compulsory in Thailand, but voting for at least one of the candidates is not. People can choose a 'No' category signalling a rejection of any of the 40 or so candidates on the ballot paper.

The question is how many people might exercise that right, given the effect the political vacuum is having on the Thai economy and Thai tourism.

The embattled caretaker Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was one of the first to vote, and there were fewer reports of election problems in northern Thailand where she enjoys strong support in poorer areas for her populist policies.

Normally she could expect to secure a landslide in her heartland, but her inability to pay promised subsidies to rice farmers, to the tune of more than £2bn, means she cannot be sure if she will do so well in this election.

They are still threatening to march on Bangkok in their tens of thousands this week if the promised funds do not materialise.

Feared mass election violence may not have marred the polls, but at the end of the day there can be no result, good or bad, for Ms Shinawatra. There can't even be a vote count until more ballots are cast.

There needs to be a rerun of the advance voting, which was obstructed by violence from pro and anti-government supporters last weekend.

Today 28 constituencies didn't have a single candidate to vote for because protesters prevented their registration, and all the people who were prevented from voting today will have to be given the right to do so at a later date.

To the anti-government protesters in the main shopping district in Bangkok, who have been camped there for weeks and held their own fake ballot today to express their view of the government - almost all of the comments unprintable - the February 2 election is irrelevant.

"It doesn't matter to us what the outcome of today is," said one volunteer handing out free food to a never-ending queue of people.

"We will not go home until Yingluck leaves office. They can hold an election every weekend if they like but that will never make Yingluck Shinawatra our legitimate leader."

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