Following a meeting yesterday between the government and Election Commission it was announced that the election in Thailand will still go ahead on February 2. There had been talk earlier in the week that the date could be rescheduled. Protesters gathered outside the Bangkok venue where the meeting was held and amidst angry scenes a plain-clothes policeman was brutally attacked by scores of protesters after he allegedly shot one of them in the leg. Last weekend, protesters forced the early closure of some polling stations as the early voting commenced and there are fears of more clashes at polling stations over the weekend as those who want to vote are confronted by anti-government groups.
What happens next?
It’s still anybody’s guess what will happen in the next phase of Thailand’s political turmoil, but it’s a long way from being resolved regardless of who wins the most votes in the election. The main opposition Democrat Party are boycotting the polls and with protesters vowing to block polling stations in Bangkok and southern provinces it isn’t yet known how many people will be prevented or discouraged from voting. The upshot of all this is likely to see a legal wrangle over the legitimacy of the election. If, as expected, Yingluck Shinawatra and her Pheu Thai party win the election, there is no guarantee they will be allowed to govern the country. Hundreds of Pheu Thai MPs face potential disqualification whilst Yingluck herself has been implicated by the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) for her role in the controversial rice-pledging scheme and could face criminal charges. Meanwhile, the Democrat Party could also be dissolved for their support of the protesters. It’s a legal minefield which could result in a power vacuum to be filled by either the military or an unelected council until such time as new elections could be held with new political parties. Pro-government supporters and red shirts have said they will not tolerate a military coup, but they are also aware that what they describe as a ‘judicial coup’ is a possibility.
How will this affect tourists in Bangkok?
With violence occurring at last week’s advanced polling in Bangkok, there is sure to be much media focus on this weekend’s election in Thailand. It’s inevitable that there will be more trouble somewhere, it’s just a case of to what degree and what action the Thai police do or don’t take to try to prevent trouble. From a tourist perspective, there is still nothing to be too worried about with most polling stations in Bangkok located away from main tourist areas, but you do need to use your common-sense if you are in Thailand this weekend, particularly Bangkok. With feelings and emotions heightened in the coming days, avoid rally areas and don’t try to talk politics with any new-found Thai friends. This is an internal political problem and tourists haven’t been targeted, but you still need to use discretion.
The majority of tourist attractions in Bangkok will be open over the weekend, but there is the possibility of local road closures so allow plenty of extra time for road journeys. There are alcohol restrictions in place during the election period just as there always are during elections in Thailand. These restrictions are sometimes ignored by entertainment venues, but there is a good chance that they will be more rigorously observed in various Bangkok districts this weekend. Officially, there are no alcohol sales from 18.00 on February 1 through to midnight on February 2. This being Thailand though, there will always be some Bangkok pubs or clubs open for those that want to get a drink. The alcohol restrictions also don’t normally apply to the bigger hotels so you may find your hotel bar doing good trade this weekend.
What about other areas of Thailand?
There will probably be some anti-election protests in some southern Thai provinces, but these are unlikely to be of any concern to tourists. However, whilst the situation is likely to be more tense in Bangkok compared to other areas of the country, all visitors to Thailand should use discretion and common-sense and not get involved with any political rallies.
Tourists attractions throughout Thailand will be open over the weekend and most visitors are unlikely to be inconvenienced apart from the prospect of some bars and clubs being closed. As mentioned above, there are alcohol restrictions in place from 18.00 on February 1 through to midnight on February 2. When it comes to elections in Thailand, it’s sometimes the case that the restrictions are more closely adhered to in Bangkok whilst resorts like Ko Samui and Phuket often get more leeway as do many hotels catering to overseas tourists where the bar will normally still be allowed to serve alcohol. However, visitors to all areas of Thailand this weekend should be prepared for the prospect of a number bars and clubs being closed. It’s always a bit of a lottery on ‘dry-days’ like this in Thailand. Some entertainment venues will get away with serving alcohol openly whilst other venues may be more discreet and turn off the music and serve alcohol in coffee mugs.
Chinese New Year
Firecrackers will be set off all over Thailand this weekend to celebrate Chinese New Year, so visitors shouldn’t be alarmed or jump to conclusions if they hear what sounds like explosions or gunfire! It’s also a time when many people will be wearing red so don’t assume this has any political significance. If you are in Thailand this weekend there will be plenty of celebrating going on in places including Bangkok (Chinatown), Chiang Mai (Waworot Market area) and Phuket (Old Town) as well as many other parts of Thailand so make sure you keep the political problems in perspective and enjoy the festivities.