Thailand begins election re-runs as Red Shirts gather
Police personnel keep a watch as voters wait to cast their vote at the Taa Ta Kho village polling station, as part of a re-run of general elections, in Petchaburi province, south of Bangkok, on March 2, 2014 - by Manjunath Kiran
The February 2 election failed to ease a four-month political crisis when protesters seeking to topple Yingluck's government caused the closure of around 10 percent of polling stations, many in opposition strongholds.
The Election Commission said results cannot be announced until polls have been held in all constituencies, setting a late-April deadline for their completion.
Yingluck will remain in a caretaker role until then with limited power over policy, further eroding her authority as she handles ongoing street protests and a series of legal challenges against her administration.
Election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said around 120,000 people were registered to vote Sunday across more than 100 constituencies in five provinces.
He said the re-runs, the first attempted since February 2, had been held "peacefully... without any problems".
But only a trickle of voters were seen at several polling stations in Phetchaburi, an opposition heartland around 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of Bangkok, according to an AFP reporter.
"I was disappointed that I had the right to vote on February 2 but couldn't," Sangwan Yuusuk, 57, said at a polling station.
Under election law, 95 percent of the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament must be filled to enable the appointment of a new government.
The main opposition Democrat party, which boycotted the general election, last month lost a legal bid to nullify the poll.
In addition to the protests, Yingluck faces a series of legal complaints against her government, including charges of negligence over a troubled rice subsidy scheme which could see her removed from office.
- Gun and grenade attacks -
Pro-government Red Shirts, who have been closely watching the unfolding political drama in Bangkok, have ramped up their rallies and rhetoric in support of Yingluck and her billionaire brother Thaksin -- a former prime minister who lives in exile to avoid jail for a corruption conviction.
On Sunday organisers said thousands of people were descending on the Red Shirt stronghold of Khon Kaen in the country's northeast for an overnight rally.
It follows a similar rally on Saturday in the northeast, which together with the rural north has returned Shinawatra-allied governments to power in every election for more than a decade.
They say their votes are a political reward for policies that have funnelled state money to their hard-scrabble regions after years of neglect.
Critics describe the same policies as a form of vote-buying.
"We are ready to come in Bangkok if the situation is still a mess," Red Shirt spokesman Thanavut Vichaidit told AFP, as he led a convoy of supporters to Khon Kaen.
Thailand has been riven by political divisions since 2006 when Thaksin was ousted in a bloodless military coup, sparking years of political turmoil punctuated by deadly street protests.
The worst violence left more than 90 people dead in the heart of Bangkok in 2010, in an army crackdown on Red Shirt rallies against the then-Democrat government.
Fears of widening civil conflict have surged amid gun and grenade attacks linked to the current rallies, which have killed 23 people -- among them four children -- and wounded several hundred others.
The violence prompted the head of the nation's coup-prone army to warn that Thailand could slide into civil war.
Anti-government protesters on Sunday began dismantling rally stages at several key intersections in Bangkok after announcing the end of a weeks-long self-proclaimed "shutdown" of the city.
Protesters, who are massing in smaller numbers, have moved their tents to Lumpini Park in the city centre.
The movement has denied the retreat marks a defeat, saying it would keep up its struggle to overthrow a government that it sees as corrupt.
Despite their pullback, analysts say Yingluck's hold on power remains precarious, with anti-corruption authorities pressing charges over her role in the controversial rice scheme that could lead to her removal from office and a five-year ban from politics.
Firebrand protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has predicted Yingluck's government will fall within a fortnight -- although he is known for his extravagant rhetoric.
Some experts say that behind the scenes a power struggle is playing out to decide who will be in charge of the country when 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej's more than six-decade reign eventually ends.
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