(Reuters) - Thais voted on Sunday in the first general election since a September 2006 coup that ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, twice winner by a landslide and now in exile.
Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party has been disbanded, and he and 110 of its senior members barred from politics, making the poll in large part a run-off between relative new bloods and old political hands in a host of new parties.
Following are short portraits of the three leading candidates to become prime minister:
ABHISIT VEJJAJIVA, 43, LEADER OF THE DEMOCRAT PARTY
Smart and sophisticated, Eton- and Oxford-educated Abhisit is the man Bangkok’s middle class, the military and foreign investors want to become prime minister.
But he lacks the common touch and appears to have failed to make any inroads with rural voters in the Thaksin heartlands, meaning the Democrats are likely to struggle to win more than a quarter of the 480 seats in parliament.
SAMAK SUNDARAVEJ, 72, LEADER OF PEOPLE POWER PARTY (PPP)
Outspoken and seen as abrasive, the former Bangkok governor was drafted in as a figurehead for the openly pro-Thaksin PPP and vowed immediately to fight “military dictatorship”.
Even though PPP is forecast to win up to 200 seats, his combative style and support for a bloody military crackdown on left-wing students in 1976 make him an unpalatable choice for many.
His opponents have also dredged up corruption allegations from his time as Bangkok governor from 2000 to 2004.
BANHARN SILPA-ARCHA, 75, LEADER OF THE CHART THAI PARTY
One of the wiliest provincial politicians of his generation, Banharn leads a party known as “The Eel” for its ability to slide quietly through the murky waters of politics and end up in a position of coalition king-maker.
His 16 months as prime minister in the mid-1990s were widely regarded as a disaster and believed to have paved the way for Thailand’s -- and then Asia’s -- economic crisis in 1997.
An ethnic Chinese from the countryside just north of Bangkok, he styles his haircut on late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
Compiled by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler
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