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Anti-Election Protesters Unable to Stop Thailand's Candidate

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Police stood by while hundreds of people laid siege to the Election Commission's office, a police station, and Thailand's equivalent of the U.S. FBI, but the protesters failed to stop candidates registering for a nationwide election scheduled for Feb. 2.

Political candidates from Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's party and eight other parties dodged the anti-election blockade by sneaking into the Election Commission's office at a stadium before dawn on Monday (Dec. 23) while the protesters slept.

More than two dozen other parties were forced to register at a nearby police station, which was quickly surrounded by protesters when they discovered it was being used as a backup office for candidates to file their papers.

All the political parties from Ms. Yingluck's coalition government and the opposition appear to have joined in the election process, except the opposition Democrat Party which announced a boycott to support the anti-election rallies.

"We have to manage this conflict in Parliament," said Charupong Ruangsuwan, leader of Ms. Yingluck's Pheu Thai party which is expected to win at the polls.

"Let the people decide who will run the country," Mr. Charupong said on TV on Monday (Dec. 23).

Some protesters broke into the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand's equivalent of the FBI, looking for evidence against nearly 40 anti-election activists who have been charged with "insurrection" and other crimes.

"We want the DSI to do its duty without bias, otherwise we will come back," said Nitithorn Lamlua, a lawyer who leads a radical faction of the main protest movement.

During the past several weeks, thousands of protesters occupied the DSI office and other government buildings, and stole computers, hard drives, cell phones, databases and other equipment and records before leaving, police said.

Last week, Mr. Nitithorn led dozens of protesters to the American Embassy where they denounced U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Washington after the State Department expressed "concern" about the protests.

Ms. Yingluck is unwilling or unable to use the police to stop mobs from storming and occupying government buildings and creating blockades in the street because she does not want the confrontation to turn bloody.

As a result, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban is doing whatever he wants to paralyze Bangkok, cripple Ms. Yingluck's ability to rule, and mocking police for failing to arrest him.

The government appears worried that if major violence erupts, then the military could step in to restore order and use the instability as a reason to stage a coup.

The U.S.-trained military toppled Ms. Yingluck's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, in a bloodless 2006 coup after weeks of similar street protests in Bangkok made it difficult for Mr. Thaksin's government to function.

Mr. Suthep appears to be trying to disrupt the election process so the Constitutional Court will declare the poll invalid, paving the way for a constitutional crisis or coup which could include a new appointment of a government led by anti-Thaksin officials.

The army's top generals have said they will support the Feb. 2 election for Parliament's House of Representatives, if it is free and fair.

The army's political statements have proved deceptive in the past. The military has staged 18 coups and attempted coups since the 1930s.

Ms. Yingluck spent Monday (Dec. 23) continuing her campaign tour near the Mekong River in Thailand's north and northeast where she enjoys most of her support.

By contrast, the protesters derive their strength from Bangkok's middle and elite community, plus some southern Thais.

They rallied more than 150,000 people on Sunday (Dec. 22) to paralyze Bangkok's traffic, in the latest wave of anti-election protests which have crippled this Buddhist-majority country since Oct. 31.

"Because Yingluck clings to her prime minister's seat, we must come out to chase her," Mr. Suthep, a wealthy southern politician, told a rally on Sunday (Dec. 22).

"We will keep chasing her until she is dead, or until she leaves."

The unrest meanwhile is worrying Thai and foreign academics, journalists, residents and tourists, who are flooding online forums with analysis, quotes and photos while debating whether or not the anti-election protests should be described as "fascist".

Some pro-democracy activists have organized boycotts of businesses financing the anti-election protests.

One of the senior family members who own Thailand's wealthy Boon Rawd Brewery, which produces Singha Beer, publicly apologized after his outspoken daughter led anti-election protesters and confronted police while she denounced rural voters as uneducated if they support Ms.

Yingluck.

"I, Mr. Chutinant Bhirombhakdi, father of Ms. Chitpas Bhirombhakdi, would like to express my sincere regret and apology," Mr. Chutinant wrote in a letter to the Thai media, published on Monday (Dec. 23).

Singha Beer's sales rely heavily on drinkers in the northeast where voters have overwhelmingly voted for Ms. Yingluck and her allies in the nationwide 2011 election which brought her to power.

ENDS

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

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