Polls close following tense Thai election

Sunday 02 February 2014 16.09
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Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cast her vote early
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra cast her vote early
A Thai voter (L) cast his vote at an outdoor polling station in downtown Bangkok
A Thai voter (L) cast his vote at an outdoor polling station in downtown Bangkok
Voting was cancelled in one Bangkok district when protesters prevented delivery of election materials
Voting was cancelled in one Bangkok district when protesters prevented delivery of election materials

Elections in Thailand have passed off relatively peacefully, with voting disrupted in about a fifth of the country's constituencies, but no major violence was reported.

Voting ended at 3pm (local time), but no results will be announced today, meaning little change to an uneasy status quo.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will remain caretaker premier for weeks, facing continued anti-government protests and the prospect of a slew of legal challenges aimed at invalidating the poll.

Further voting is already scheduled for 23 February after problems with advance balloting last Sunday, while polls in nine southern provinces where candidates were unable to register may not happen for weeks.

"To those of you who went out and prevented ballot boxes from being delivered, thank you," protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban said in a speech at one of seven rally sites in Bangkok.

Voting was disrupted in 18%, or 69 of 375 constituencies nationwide, the Election Commission said, affecting 18 of 77 provinces, where demonstrators calling for an appointed government succeeded in sabotaging the vote.

With the main opposition Democrat Party boycotting the poll, Yingluck's Puea Thai Party is expected to win comfortably.

Its leader said the election showed the public believed in democracy.

"The people are not afraid and they came out to vote today," said Jarupong Ruangsuawan, who is also Interior Minister.

"We've fought hard for democracy in Thailand and we proved that most Thais believe in the democratic process."

The snap poll was called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in an unsuccessful attempt to quell rising tensions, which has seen three months of sometimes bloody rallies aimed at toppling her government.

Protesters wanted the election delayed by a year or more so an unelected "people's council" can implement vaguely-defined reforms to expunge the influence of Ms Yingluck's divisive brother Thaksin.

The former premier was ousted in a 2006 coup that unleashed a cycle of political unrest in the country.

Clashes last night raised fears of more violence around the polls, with emotions running high on both sides of the political divide. 

At least ten people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes, grenade attacks and drive-by shootings since the opposition rallies began.

Each side in the bitterly divided kingdom routinely blames the other for the violence.