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Victory of pro-Thaksin party in Thai election bodes further instability

Victory of pro-Thaksin party in Thai election bodes further instability

Thailand's first election since a 2006 military coup ended Sunday with a big victory for loyalists of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a stunning rebuke to those who ousted him for alleged corruption.
No party won an absolute majority, however, setting the stage for a battle over forming a government _ which could create instability and delay the promised return to democratic rule.
Many fear that a government led by Thaksin loyalists could seek revenge for the coup. About 60 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots for around 5,000 candidates, the state Election Commission said.
Still, the failure of the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party or PPP to capture an absolute majority in the parliament's 480-seat lower house leaves a way for Thaksin's opponents to ignore the voters' mandate and form a government.
With more than 95 percent of the vote counted, the PPP _ formed after a court order disbanded Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party earlier this year _ had won 228 seats, the Election Commission said.
"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 his congratulations after hearing the results.
But the second-place Democrat Party, with 165 seats, can also stake a claim to forming a government _ one that could be fragile due to weaker bargaining power with potential allies.
"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 the party's leader, Abhisit Vejajjiva.
"Abhisit hopes that other parties will base their decision on 'what is good for the country,'" said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. In the language of Thai politics, he explained, that is a euphemism for keeping Thaksin's allies out of power.
The PPP got most of its support from the rural north and northeast, where Thaksin's programs _ such as universal heath care and generous village development funds _ won a hard-core following during his 2001-06 rule.
The Democrats were strongest in Bangkok, the center of the 2006 movement to oust Thaksin. Only seven parties of 39 running won parliamentary seats.
The Bangkok vote especially helps strengthen the Democrats' chance to take power, as history shows it is difficult to govern without the capital's support, said Thitinan.
If the PPP comes to power, said Nakarin Mektrairat, dean of Thammasat University's Faculty of Political Science, "there will be tension and conflicts," partly due to its lack of backing from Bangkok residents.
Thai politics has been in almost constant turmoil since early 2006, when protests mushroomed demanding that Thaksin step down only a year after his party's landslide victory gave it an absolute parliamentary majority.
An April 2006 snap election was boycotted by the opposition and later declared invalid by the courts, leaving Thaksin's government in limbo until the coup of September 19, 2006. The military-appointed interim government that succeeded it proved weak and indecisive, failing to restore public confidence.
Thaksin was abroad at the time of his ouster and has stayed in exile. He is legally barred from office, his party has been dissolved by the courts and he is charged with a slew of corruption-related crimes.
Despite having vowed to retire from politics, he has burnished his image from afar with moves like buying Britain's Manchester City soccer club.
The sport is hugely popular in Thailand.
Thaksin's PPP allies announced last week that he would return to Bangkok early next year, after a new government is installed. Thaksin did not immediately comment publicly on the election results.
The PPP could face an uphill battle in trying to form a government.
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 big parties' power and sought to demonize him as a corrupt destroyer of democracy.
His return could, however, undo their efforts and put their own positions in jeopardy.
PPP leader Samak said that if possible, his party would grant amnesty to Thaksin and 110 other former executives of his disbanded party. They were barred from office for five years.
"They didn't do anything wrong," Samak said.
Thaksin's allies could see their tally of seats fall by as many as 10-20 as claims of vote-buying are investigated by the Election Commission, which has been hawk-eyed in looking for PPP irregularities. Disqualifying them would leave them a reduced total, complicating the task of forming a ruling coalition.
Thailand's long-term prospects for political stability could also appear grim to many observers.
Samak, a right-wing political veteran who has served in several Cabinets and as Bangkok's governor, has been divisive figure for decades.
The blunt-speaking 72-year-old "doesn't have a conciliatory personality. He is aggressive and uncompromising," said Sarong Phetprasert, an economist at Chulalongkorn University.
The Democrat Party's 43-year-old leader Abhisit is smart and charming, but seen by some as a political lightweight who can barely command the respect of some senior party colleagues, much less the tough and wily political rival party leaders with whom he would form a coalition government.


Updated : 2021-04-11 18:40 GMT+08:00