Bangkok Protests Gain Momentum ahead of Election
BANGKOK - Massive protests in Thailand are growing in advance of this weekend's election.
Demonstrators tired of political corruption have been on the streets for months. Ten people have died in the protests and hundreds have been injured.
Yet the government is still expected to win the election and that could prolong the protests.
The demonstrations began last fall, closing businesses and hurting tourism in Thailand's capital city of Bangkok. Government leaders fear the entire country's economy will suffer if the protests continue beyond this Sunday's election.
The mood in Bangkok was festive as tens of thousands of people marched together, trying to block every main road in the city. They vowed to protest until Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra steps down from office.
A failed amnesty bill triggered the rallies. The measure would have allowed the prime minister's older brother, former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra, to return to Thailand without facing imprisonment.
Shinawatra left the country in 2006 after corruption charges forced him from office. Part of the proposed bill would have also returned $1.2 billion in seized assets to him.
To appease the protestors, the prime minister called for a special election. But that stirred up even more anger.
"We don't need an election. We need reform to stop the corruption in this country," one protestor said.
"These people are not against democracy. They are against the election in February," Thai expert Dr. Surat Horachaikul said. "They are saying we don't want to go back to the vicious cycle."
"The main opposition party, the Democrat Party, is boycotting the election," he continued. "And so this election will not have legitimacy because they are a big part in Southern Thailand."
Meanwhile, the nation's small Christian community is somewhat divided on what to do. Pastor Boonratna Boayen, with the Church of Christ in Thailand, said many church members are on opposite sides. He's calling for unity.
"We are the Church and we are responsible for our country. This is the first time in Thailand that millions of people go out in the street for their voices to be heard. God is saying we should take this seriously. We should not condemn people. Reform should begin with us," Boayen said.
Protestors want an election boycott but claim they will not stop people from voting. As a precaution, the Thai government has deployed 10,000 police throughout Bankgok to secure polling places.
Whatever the outcome, thousands of Thais say they are determined to continue their fight to reform their country.