Bangkok: Even before polls opened in Thailand's contentious election on Sunday explosions and gunfire rang out across a busy Bangkok intersection, sending tensions soaring across the capital.
Seven people were injured amid mayhem as several masked gunmen opened fire as anti-government protesters and pro-government supporters clashed outside a northern suburb government office housing ballot papers late Saturday.
Among those injured were two photo-journalists, including award-winning American James Nachtwey who was shot in the leg.
US journalist James Nachtwey, second right in white shirt, is taken to an ambulance after he received a minor injury following clashes between anti and pro-government groups in Bangkok. Photo: AP
Many of 48 million registered voters are likely to be blocked from casting their ballots despite police deploying more than 100,000 officers nation-wide to protect polling stations.
Election officials have been told to close polling if there is rioting or violence which could further undermine the credibility of the vote that the main opposition Democrat party is boycotting and vowing to challenge in the courts.
The Pheu Thai party of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is likely to win the largest number of votes despite opposition claims of corruption in her government, which she denies.
Gunmen open fire protecting the anti-government protesters against the pro- government red shirts as violence escalates before the controversial elections in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: Getty
But the party will not be able to achieve a quorum in parliament because protests blocked some candidates registering in southern opposition strongholds, guaranteeing further stalemate in the crisis that is dragging down Thailand's economy and has left 10 people dead and 577 injured.
Firebrand anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has called for the blockade of roads across Bangkok but insists protesters will not prevent people from voting.
“They will demonstrate calmly, peacefully, without violence,” he said.
The Thai government imposed a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces in an attempt to cope with the on-going political turmoil however this decree has had no effect on the mass protests. Photo: Getty
But election officials said protesters prevented hundreds of thousands of people voting in last Sunday's advance polling, including many by intimidation or force.
The Election Commission, which has the responsibility for organising the poll, wanted it delayed because of fears of violence.
But Ms Yingluck decided to push ahead with polling, arguing a delay would only worsen the situation if the Democrats continued their boycott and protesters continued occupying parts of Bangkok and blockading ministries.
The protesters say they want to rid the country of the Shinawatra family's political influence and claim that Ms Yingluck, the country's first woman prime minister, is a puppet of her brother Thaksin Shinawatra who lives in Dubai to avoid a jail sentence for corruption.
Ms Yingluck called the snap election in a bid to defuse tensions after more than two months of turmoil that has crippled her administration.