Bangkok residents vote in Thailand`s litmus test poll

This is Thailand`s first poll battle since mass rallies rocked the capital.

Bangkok: Residents of a Bangkok suburb began voting on Sunday in Thailand`s first poll battle since mass rallies rocked the capital, seen as a litmus test of support for the government and the opposition.

The parliamentary by-election in northern suburbs pits a leader of the "Red Shirt" anti-government movement, who is detained on terrorism charges, against a member of the elite-backed ruling party.

The vote, which comes two months after the army broke up the Reds` rally in the heart of Bangkok, will be a telling indicator of public opinion ahead of a general election expected next year.

"We expect a smooth election today," Visuth Photan of the Election Commission told reporters after the poll was opened amid a heavy police presence.

The government has rejected calls from the opposition for a state of emergency to be lifted in Bangkok for the parliamentary race, citing lingering fears of unrest.

Although Bangkok`s streets have been swept clean, Thai society remains deeply divided following the worst political violence in decades, in which 90 people died and about 1,900 were injured.

The recent protests by the Red Shirts -- many of whom back fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- attracted up to 100,000 people demanding immediate elections, but most of the leaders are now behind bars.

A court allowed Red Shirt leader Kokaew Pikulthong to leave prison briefly last month to register for the by-election, triggered by the death of a ruling-party lawmaker, but his request to be released to campaign was denied.


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