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Published: Thursday February 6, 2014 MYT 3:40:02 PM
Updated: Thursday February 6, 2014 MYT 3:40:02 PM

Thai polling chiefs, seeking to fix broken vote, meet and adjourn

Anti-government protesters travel on a bus near the Interior Ministry building, which is being surrounded by fellow protesters, in Bangkok February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Anti-government protesters travel on a bus near the Interior Ministry building, which is being surrounded by fellow protesters, in Bangkok February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai election officials struggled on Thursday to shore up a chaotic weekend ballot disrupted by anti-government protesters who blocked polling stations and stopping people voting in nearly a quarter of the country.

They met for two hours but adjourned without making progress, saying "legal issues" had to be clarified and they would meet again on Friday.

Sunday's poll has been challenged by the main opposition Democrat Party, which refused to take part, and the Election Commission is already investigating possible campaigning irregularities in a long-running political conflict that shows no sign of ending.

The election would likely return caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to power if it is not annulled but, whatever the result, it will not change the dysfunctional status quo after eight years of polarisation and turmoil.

Consumer confidence, which reflects views on the economy, job opportunities and future income, hit a 26-month low in January, a university survey released on Thursday showed.

"Our meeting yielded only one conclusion today: that those who were not able to vote on January 26 and February 2 in constituencies where there were problems have not lost their right to vote," commission official Somchai Srisutthiyakorn told reporters.

"Other issues were raised in today's meeting but we have not yet reached a conclusion due to legal issues that need to be clarified."

Voter turnout on Sunday was 47.7 percent, the commission said, with 20.5 million people turning up to vote out of a total of 43 million eligible voters. The data excludes voters in nine provinces where voting could not take place.

Polls were disrupted in 18 percent of constituencies, 69 out of 375, nationwide, affecting 18 out of 77 provinces.

MORE RALLIES AHEAD

Anti-government protests are still blocking parts of Bangkok in the latest round of an eight-year dispute that broadly pits Bangkok's middle class, southern Thais and the royalist establishment against the mostly poor, rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Ten people have been killed in sporadic bursts of violence, although Bangkok has been calm since the vote. The number of protesters on the streets has dwindled, for now, but their three-month campaign has drawn as many as 200,000 on big marches and rallies, more of which are expected.

The protests are having an impact on the economy, the tourism sector in particular with arrivals in Bangkok sharply down.

"People are very concerned about their future," Thanavath Phonvichai, an economics professor at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, told a news conference for the release of the university's latest confidence survey.

"The economy has not reached its bottom yet."

The demonstrators say Yingluck is Thaksin's puppet and the costly giveaways that won his parties every election since 2001 are tantamount to vote-buying using taxpayers' money.

They say Thaksin's new political order is tainted by graft and cronyism and want an appointed "people's council" to replace Yingluck and overhaul a political system hijacked by her brother, who lives in exile to avoid a jail term for graft.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban faces charges of murder related to violence in 2010 when, as deputy prime minister, he sent in troops to crush protests by "red shirt" supporters of Thaksin. More than 90 people were killed.

Suthep was to appear in court on Thursday in that case, but he failed to turn up for a second time. He was given another seven days to appear.

The court initially requested Suthep to appear on December 12 last year but rescheduled the hearing for six weeks later, citing his lack of availability due to his anti-government campaign.

(Additional reporting by Boontiwa Wichakul; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel)

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