(Reuters) – A bomb at a Bangkok bus stop killed one person and wounded at least 10 on Sunday after polls closed in a parliamentary by-election seen as a referendum on recent political unrest.
The bomb had been hidden near a trash bin at a bus stop on Ratchadumri Road in the heart of Bangkok’s commercial district, an area occupied by thousands of “red shirt” anti-government protesters for several weeks until an army crackdown on May 19.
There was no indication of who had planted the device or whether it was linked to a Bangkok by-election in which a ruling party candidate narrowly beat an anti-government protest leader who has been jailed since May on terrorism charges.
“Whoever did this wants to stir up the situation,” said government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn.
The blast killed a 51-year-old man, said Police Hospital director Jongjet Aoajenpong. Seven men and three women were wounded, including a bus driver, said the Erawan Medical Center.
It was the first deadly bomb attack in Bangkok since troops and red shirt protesters clashed over April and May. At least 89 people were killed and 1,400 wounded in the worst political violence in modern Thai history.
Thailand had been largely stable since the army crackdown.
Most protest leaders are either in detention and facing terrorism charges, or on the run. Thailand’s financial markets and economy have bounced back.
A state of emergency that allows authorities to detain people without charge, censor the press, ban public gatherings and freeze bank accounts remains in force.
“What just happened is a clear confirmation of why we need to keep an emergency decree in place in some areas,” added Panitan. “The situation isn’t completely safe and calm.”
CANDIDATE IN JAIL
The blast took place shortly after polls closed in a toughly fought by-election, the first electoral test since the end of the anti-government protests.
The opposition candidate, Korkaew Pikulthong, has been jailed since May for allegedly encouraging violence, a charge he denies. He campaigned from prison, saying he had public sympathy for being held without bail.
Korkaew, whose Puea Thai Party is closely allied with self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, faced Panich Wikisreth, a member of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s ruling Democrat Party and a former deputy Bangkok mayor.
Panich won with 96,480 votes, according to unofficial early results. Korkaew came in second with 81,776.
The ruling Democrats are likely to play the results up as a symbolic victory that shows Bangkok’s 15 million people generally back Abhisit’s tough measures, said Karn Yuenyong, director of the independent Siam Intelligence Unit.
But the district often votes differently from other Bangkok areas and winning the seat makes little difference to Abhisit’s fractious six-party coalition, which has a 75-seat majority in the 480-seat parliament.
“The result is no indication the Democrats are going to win the next general election,” said Siripan Nogsuan, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University. But the Democrats will try to use it to build political momentum, she added.
The mostly rural and urban poor red shirts, supporters of twice-elected Thaksin, say Abhisit has no popular mandate and came to power illegitimately, heading a coalition the military cobbled together after courts dissolved a pro-Thaksin party that led the previous government.
Abhisit says he was voted into office by the same parliament that picked his Thaksin-allied predecessors.
(Additional reporting by Ambika Ahuja and Panarat Thepgumpanat. Writing by Jason Szep; Editing by Jon Boyle)