2ND LD: Explosions hit after election polls close in s. Thailand+
(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)BANGKOK, April 2_(Kyodo) _ (EDS: UPDATING WITH EXPLOSIONS, POLL CLOSING)
Three explosions wounded three soldiers and a policeman in the southern province Narathiwat on Sunday shortly after polls in Thailand's general election closed at 3 p.m.
Police Col. Thanongsak Wansupha, chief of the Jo Ai Rong police station, said one bomb exploded at a polling place as officials were closing the station.
Another blast occurred while officials and security personnel were carrying ballot boxes to a counting station.
And the third explosion was reported at a nearby administrative office in the Tak Bai District, also in Narathiwat.
One soldier was injured in the Tak Bai blast, according to a security officer.
Narathiwat is among three predominately Muslim provinces where an armed insurrection has been ongoing since January 2004.
Sunday's election, called three years early by embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is seen as critical for Thaksin who dissolved the 500-member House of Representatives after street protests in the capital demanding he quit.
Besides the extremely early dissolution by a premier with a comfortable parliamentary majority, the election is unusual because the three top opposition parties are boycotting it to protest what they see as Thaksin's unfair political maneuvering.
Thaksin has repeatedly said he will not yield to "mob rule" and simply resign, but he has vowed to step aside if fewer than half the voters support him and his Thai Rak Thai Party.
Polling stations across the country opened at 8 a.m. for 45.2 million eligible voters and closed at 3 p.m.
Vote counting begins later in the day, but it is widely expected that few, if any, results will be available by the end of Sunday.
Unlike in previous elections, no exit polls were conducted.
Local broadcasters reported Thaksin's opponents, including Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, Chart Thai Party leader Banhan Silpa-archa, and key organizer of anti-Thaksin protests in Bangkok Chamlong Srimuang, cast ballots in their constituencies.
After casting his vote in Bangkok, Thaksin urged people to uphold the democratic system and vote, saying, "While there are divergences in the country, an election should be the answer to decide the future of the country."
In one very public protest against Thaksin, Chaiyand Chaiyaporn, head of the Government Department in Chulalongkorn University's Political Science Faculty, voted in a Bangkok constituency but then tore up his ballot paper after showing the ballot with a cross marking the "No Vote" choice.
Chaiyand told reporters he wanted to protest the "absolute regime" of Thaksin, who, he claims, escaped public scrutiny by dissolving parliament and intimidating the country's mass media.
Chaiyand was immediately arrested because it is against the election law to destroy ballots.
He faces up a year in jail, a 20,000 baht ($500) fine, and loss of all electoral rights for five years if convicted.
Chaiyand, who holds a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of London, said he was ready to face trial in court as Article 65 of the Constitution states the right of people to peacefully stage protests.
Candidates from Thai Rak Thai stood uncontested for many of the 400 constituency seats because of the boycott by the top opposition parties.
About a dozen smaller parties were in Sunday's race, but none can be said to offer much competition to Thai Rak Thai, particularly on the 100-seat proportionate list.
The opposition parties urged voters to cast abstentions to express their displeasure with Thaksin, whom they accuse of massive corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.
And divisions are running deep.
The opposition Democrat Party had to call off a campaign meeting Thursday night in Chiang Mai when thousands of pro-Thaksin demonstrators threw chairs, rotten eggs and debris onto the stage.
Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said, "Political confrontation will be prolonged...Thailand under the leadership of Thaksin has become polarized. (It) is heading toward a Latin American style of political development."
On Friday, Thaksin urged his political opponents to "forget the past" and respect the April 2 outcome.
"I will do my best to set up a national reconciliation government," he told reporters.
Thaksin's party easily won a landslide in the February 2005 election for the lower chamber and in 2001 it won nearly half the seats in the lower house.
Voters were then attracted by his populist policies such as cheap universal healthcare, a debt moratorium for farmers and billions of baht in soft loans to the rural poor.
But official results in this election may be difficult in several areas, particularly in the south where sentiment against Thaksin runs especially high.
A candidate must get a vote total equal to at least 20 percent of the number of people eligible to vote in a given constituency, even if that candidate runs unopposed.
Because of the likelihood of several candidates failing to get the 20 percent required under the election law, it may take several rounds of by-elections before a full parliament can vote on a new prime minister even if Thai Rak Thai emerges with a high vote total.