Citizens in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, are voting in a key by-election seen as a test of the popularity of the government. The poll comes just two months after the military dispersed anti-government protests in the city.
Election officials reported strong voter turnout at polls in Bangkok. The by-election is considered the first political test for a parliamentary seat in Thailand since anti-government protests were halted in May by the military. [Police say an explosion in Bangkok Sunday killed one person and wounded at least 10 people, but they have not said whether it is tied to the country's political unrest.]
The election on the outskirts of Bangkok is also seen as a proxy battle between the governing Democrat Party of the Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the opposition Puea Thai Party, closely aligned with the anti-government red shirt movement.
Some 90 people died and almost 1,900 injured during the months of protests by the so called red shirt movement, which is closely aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shianwatra, ousted from power in a 2006 coup.
At polling booths throughout the constituency officials reported brisk voting from early morning. Officials said the turnout could be as high as 60 per cent.
Kritti, a company employee, supported the Democrat Party candidate as he is satisfied with Prime Minister Abhisit's management of the country since the violence of April and May.
"I think Khun [honorific] Abhisit the prime minister has done a good job for the management of the government and their policy is also good and much for all Thai people and for the coalition policy is also good - I want to have peace in my country," said Kritti.
The Puea Thai Party's candidate, Korkaew Pikulthong, a red shirt leader remained in jail throughout the campaign despite appeals by the party for his release ahead of the vote. Korkaew is one of several Red Shirt leaders who are being detained for their involvement in the demonstrations.
Thai By-election poster for Puea Thai Party candidate, Bangkok, 25 Jul 2010
Another voter, who identified himself only as Morit came with his family to cast his ballot. He believes there is strong support for Kokaew.
Morit said there were many red shirt supporters at the polling booths through the constituency.
Bangkok and more than a dozen other provinces remain under a state of emergency that came in to force at the height of the anti-government protests in early April. There have been increasing calls for the emergency decree to be lifted. Mr. Abhisit Sunday said the government will take steps to lift the decree gradually.
But some voters, like Kamploy, say there are still fears the country could face further violence in the months ahead.
Voter Kamploy says the people are still scared, Bangkok, 25 Jul 2010
"The people are still scared - maybe it can happen again because we still have so much news everyday about the red shirt or government," she said.
Thailand remains deeply divided after facing its most severe political crisis in almost two decades.
But the government has announced plans for national reconciliation and the setting up of committees to promote reform and investigate the bloodshed arising from the protests earlier this year.