Anti-government protesters cheer during protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban's daily speech, in Bangkok, Feb. 3.Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Thailand's main opposition party petitioned a court Tuesday to annul last weekend's disrupted national election, launching a legal challenge that could prolong the divided country's political paralysis, which has so far shown no signs of abating.
The Democrat Party's petition to the Constitutional Court also urged the dissolution of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's ruling party, which called Sunday's elections in a bid to end anti-government protests that started three months ago.
The election was generally peaceful, with no repeat of the chaos seen the previous day, when supporters and opponents of Yingluck clashed in northern Bangkok.
But Wiratana Kalayasiri, a former opposition lawmaker and the head of the Democrat Party's legal team, said the petition argues that the polls violated the constitution on several grounds, including that they were not completed in one day.
Critics called the Democrat Party's argument counterintuitive, saying the election could not be finished in one day because anti-government protesters backed by the party sabotaged the vote.
The Democrat Party boycotted the election, and protesters aligned with it forced the closure of hundreds of polling stations in Bangkok and the south, preventing millions of people from voting.
As a result, a series of special elections are required to complete the balloting. Election results cannot be announced until all areas have successfully voted.
"This election has violated the constitution on several counts, but mainly it was not a fair one," Wiratana said. "The election was not held on the same day ... That is why we are seeking to nullify it."
The country's election commission said it was looking into complaints alleging abuse of authority by the government during Sunday's vote. It is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss problems surrounding the election, including the failure to register candidates in 28 electoral districts after protesters blockaded candidate registration centers in December.
Prompong Nopparit, spokesman for Yingluck's Pheu Thai party, said the Democrats "are initiating another front of attack to help the street protesters."
"They are the ones who did not even participate in the election. They are more likely the ones who are trying to overthrow democracy through unconstitutional means," he said.
Despite fears of violence, the voting proceeded peacefully in 90 percent of polling stations.
China pulls out of rice deal
The struggle to hold the balloting was part of a conflict that has split the country between supporters of Yingluck and her opponents, who say that her government is too corrupt to rule and that she is a puppet of her brother, ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, a billionaire businessman, fled into exile to avoid a corruption conviction after being deposed in a 2006 military coup.
The demonstrators have occupied major intersections in Bangkok and shut down government offices, forcing staffers to work elsewhere.
The protesters are demanding that the elected government be replaced by an unelected "people's council" to enact reforms before new elections and remove the Shinawatra family's influence from politics.
Yingluck has refused to step down, saying that she was elected by a large majority and is open to reform and that such a council would be unconstitutional and undemocratic.
Meanwhile, in a blow for Yingluck, Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan said China pulled out of a deal to buy about 1.3 million tons of Thai rice amid an investigation by Thailand's National Anti-Corruption Commission, adding to the financing problems of a subsidy program that helped her win huge rural support.
The commission, which targets political corruption, has accelerated an investigation into Yingluck's role as head of the rice price-support program, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
"China lacks confidence to do business with us after the National Anti-Corruption Commission started investigations into the transparency of rice deals between Thailand and China," he told reporters.