BANGKOK — Thailand’s tense national election got underway Sunday with protesters forcing the closure of several polling stations in the capital amid fears of more bloodshed a day after gun battles in Bangkok left seven people wounded.
The extent of disruptions was not immediately clear when polls opened nationwide. But there were early indications that several hundred polling stations in Bangkok and southern Thailand, an opposition stronghold, could not open because protesters had blocked the delivery of ballots or stopped voters from entering.
The outcome will almost certainly be inconclusive. Because protesters blocked candidate registration in some districts, parliament will not have enough members to convene. That means beleaguered Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be unable to form a government or even pass a budget, and Thailand will be stuck in political limbo for months as by-elections are run in constituencies that were unable to vote.
The risk of Election Day violence remained high a day after seven people were wounded during an hour-long gunfight that broke out at a busy Bangkok intersection Saturday between government supporters and protesters intent on derailing the polls. Among the injured was a reporter for the local Daily News and American photojournalist James Nachtwey, who was grazed by a bullet in the leg.
The exchange of fire was the latest flare-up in a months-long campaign by protesters to overthrow Yingluck’s government, which they accuse of corruption. The violence crystallized the power struggle that has devolved into a battle of wills between the government and protesters — and those caught between, who insist on their right to vote.
Under heavy police security, Yingluck cast her vote at a polling station in northeastern Bangkok, cheered on by supporters.
“Today is an important day,” she told reporters. “I would like to invite Thai people to come out and vote to uphold democracy.”
Voting was not as easy in other parts of Bangkok, where protesters vowed to fill the streets to prevent voters from reaching polling stations.
At one of the more volatile districts of central Bangkok, a group of would-be voters in Din Daeng tried and failed to push through a crowd of protesters.
“This is too much. I want to vote,” said Yupin Pintong, 42, a Bangkok resident. “I don’t care if there’s violence. I will be really upset if I don’t get to vote.”
The conflict pits demonstrators who say they want to suspend the country’s fragile democracy to institute anti-corruption reforms against Yingluck’s supporters, who know the election will not solve the nation’s crisis but insist the right to vote should not be taken away.
The protesters, a minority that cannot win power at the polls, are demanding the government be replaced by an unelected council that would rewrite laws to combat deep-seated problems of corruption and money politics. Yingluck has refused to step down, arguing that she is open to reform and that such a council would be unconstitutional.