Updated: 01/04/2014 16:54 | By Agence France-Presse

Thai ruling party to launch election bid amid protests

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's party is due Saturday to kick off a fragile election campaign for February polls boycotted by the opposition and rejected by anti-government protesters preparing to "shut down" Bangkok.

Thai ruling party to launch election bid amid protests

People take part in an anti-violence demonstration in Bangkok, on January 3, 2014

The Puea Thai party will launch its bid for re-election with rallies in its northern heartlands and on the outskirts of the capital, which has been shaken by weeks of sometimes violent demonstrations that have left eight people dead and about 400 wounded.

"I am confident that the campaign will go smoothly -- we are not the ones triggering conflict," said party leader Jarupong Ruangsuwan, adding that the election slogan would be urging people to vote to "preserve democracy".

Yingluck called snap elections after coming under intense pressure from demonstrators vowing to rid the country of the influence of her brother -- controversial former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who is widely believed to control her party from self-exile in Dubai.

Demonstrators, who have vowed to disrupt the election on February 2, want Thai democracy to be suspended for a year or more, with a "people's council" installed to implement loosely defined reforms.

Protesters plan to occupy Bangkok from January 13 in the run up to the poll, vowing to prevent government officials from going to work and cut off power and water to official buildings.

They also plan several marches in the capital starting from Sunday to build momentum ahead of the occupation attempt.

Thailand has been periodically convulsed by political bloodshed since Thaksin was overthrown by royalist generals in a coup in 2006.

The current rallies, led by a former opposition MP, erupted over a now-shelved amnesty plan that could have allowed the former leader to return.

Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party, which has not won an elected majority in two decades, support the rallies and have opted to boycott the election.

Thailand's election commission, whose call to postpone the polls was rejected by the government, said on Friday the election was expected to go ahead.

Yingluck's government still enjoys strong support in the northern half of the country and would be expected to win.

But doubts remain over whether a government could be formed, even if the election proceeds. 

Demonstrators have prevented candidates registering for the polls in several opposition-dominated southern provinces, which could result in a situation in which there are not enough elected members of parliament after the polls to select a prime minister.

Thai stocks and the baht currency have fallen sharply on concerns that the deepening crisis will scare off foreign tourists and discourage international investment.

Former premier Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, said the current demonstrations could potentially be more damaging than those that led to his expulsion from power in 2008, when opposition protesters paralysed Bangkok's main airports.

"They don't want an election. They want to overthrow government. It is dangerous," he told AFP.

A number of foreign governments have advised their nationals to avoid the current protest sites.

But the protest movement has insisted tourists have nothing to fear and pledged not to disrupt the airports.

The protesters, largely made up of southerners, royalists, middle-class Thais and the urban elite, accuse Thaksin of corruption.

But the billionaire tycoon-turned-politician is adored by many in his north and northeastern heartlands for a raft of popular policies aimed at the working class.

"The longer protesters stay, the more fed up people will become with them, which could cause trouble. The government will automatically gain popularity because of this, but we don't want it. We want the protests to be over," Somchai said.

He said Puea Thai would base its campaign on continuing with government policies -- including a controversial rice scheme, that critics say is expensive and prone to corruption.

But he said the party would not be promising a political amnesty as it did in 2011 when it swept to power promising reconciliation following a military crackdown on Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters a year earlier by the then Democrat-led government.

More than 90 people were killed and 1,900 injured in the 2010 unrest, the worst political violence in the country for decades.

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