Political chaos forecast as Thai opposition boycotts snap election

THAILAND : Thais have voted in a snap general election called three years early by the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to…

THAILAND: Thais have voted in a snap general election called three years early by the prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to try to defuse a mounting political crisis triggered by allegations against him of corruption and abuse of power.

Small bombs exploded at three polling stations yesterday in the southern province of Naarathiwat, which has been badly hit by an insurgency, minutes after polls closed, injuring five members of the security forces.

The head of the election commission described voting as otherwise mostly peaceful and the turnout as "rather high".

Official results will not be known until today, but with early partial returns showing many abstentions, analysts predicted that the poll would deepen Thailand's political turmoil rather than calm it.


The three main opposition parties boycotted the event, claiming an election would not resolve questions surrounding Mr Thaksin's probity.

They hope that their tactic will result in such political paralysis that Mr Thaksin will be forced to resign. Under the constitution, all 500 parliamentary seats must be filled for a government to be formed and, in seats where only one candidate is running he or she has to secure 20 per cent of the eligible vote to be elected.

One seat will definitely be unfilled because the only candidate, from Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, was disqualified at the last minute after it emerged she did not vote in the last election, 14 months ago.

Analysts predict that dozens more of the 276 single-candidate seats will be left vacant in opposition strongholds and are unlikely to be filled in post-poll byelections.

"It's going to be a prolonged legitimacy crisis," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "My gut instinct is that Thaksin is not going to survive because he's unable to explain the charges against him, but he is a tough fighter."

Critics allege that he used his position to enrich himself, his family and his friends, and that he emasculated supposedly independent institutions that provide a check and balance on the executive, curtailed press freedom and seemed to pay little regard to human rights.

Tens of thousands of Thaksin critics have taken to Bangkok's streets almost every day for the last seven weeks under a motley coalition called the People's Alliance for Democracy. They have promised to continue their protests if the prime minister tries to remain in office.

Mr Thaksin is hoping to amass more than the 19 million votes he won last year - which secured him 377 of the 500 seats -and so deflate the opposition's enthusiasm. "I would like to congratulate all Thais that we have successfully maintained democracy," he said after voting. "I would like to call on all sectors in society to respect the rules and respect the people's decision."

However, he then appeared to threaten his critics when he added: "It's now time to bring law and order." Some of his opponents made a public show of ripping up their ballot papers in the polling station, even though it is an offence punishable by up to a year in prison.

Mr Thaksin however is worshipped by tens of millions of mostly poor rural Thais because populist policies - such as cheap healthcare, restructuring farmers' loans and huge low-interest loans to all villages - have seen their standard of living rise significantly.