December 24, 2007 in Nation/World

Ex-leader’s party makes strides in Thailand election

Grant Peck Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Thaksin
(Full-size photo)

BANGKOK, Thailand – Loyalists of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra won nearly half the seats in Thailand’s parliamentary elections Sunday in a striking rebuke to the generals who forced the billionaire populist from power in 2006.

The first vote since the coup appeared to be a recipe for continuing political instability: The failure of the pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party to capture an absolute majority in the 480-seat lower house of parliament opens the way for his opponents to form a government despite the PPP’s substantial mandate.

With nearly all votes counted, the People’s Power Party – established after Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party was disbanded by court order earlier this year – had won 228 seats, according to the state Election Commission. Complete results were due today.

“I would like to call for all political parties to join us in forming a strong government,” PPP leader Samak Sundaravej said at a news conference. “I will certainly be the prime minister.”

He said Thaksin, who was in Hong Kong, had telephoned to offer congratulations after hearing the results.

The second-place Democrat Party took 166 seats.

“If the PPP succeeds in forming the government, the Democrat Party is ready to be in the opposition to protect the people’s interest. However, if the PPP fails to form a government, the Democrat Party is also ready to form a government,” said Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejajjiva.

The possible disqualification of some Thaksin allies could also complicate the task of assembling a ruling coalition.

Sodsri Sathayatham, a member of the Election Commission, said at least 24 could be disqualified while re-elections might be necessary in a dozen cases. The commission, which will meet Wednesday to begin investigations, was barraged by hundreds of complaints of vote-buying and other violations of electoral law.

The PPP got most of its support from the rural north and northeast, where Thaksin’s programs, including universal heath care and generous village development funds, won a hard-core following.

The Democrats ran strongest in Bangkok, where the 2006 movement to oust Thaksin was centered. Only seven parties of 39 running won parliamentary seats. About 60 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots for about 5,000 candidates.

If the PPP comes to power, said Nakarin Mektrairat, dean of Thammasat University’s faculty of political science, “there will be tension and conflicts,” in part because of its lack of support from the capital’s residents.

The forces that helped unseat Thaksin – the military, Bangkok’s educated middle class, and the country’s elite, including elements associated with the country’s monarchy – have worked hard to erase Thaksin’s political legacy.

They changed the constitution to limit the power of big parties and sought to demonize him as a corrupt destroyer of democracy. His return could undo their efforts and put their own positions in jeopardy.

Samak said that if possible, the PPP would grant amnesty to Thaksin and 110 other executives of his now-disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party, who were barred from office for five years.

In Washington, the State Department, which had criticized the coup against Thaksin, said it welcomed reports that the polls were held in a free and fair manner and congratulated the Thai people “on taking this crucial step toward a return to elected government.”

© Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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