November 7, 2018 / 10:59 AM / in 14 days

Thailand's Shinawatra clan, allies form new party ahead of polls

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Relatives and allies of ousted Thai premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, formed a new political party on Wednesday ahead of a general election set for early next year, seen as a strategy to win more seats.

FILE PHOTO: Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra speaks during a group interview in Tokyo August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo

The military government has promised to hold elections between February and May after repeated delays.

The race is set to be a contest between supporters of the military and royalist establishment and populist forces led by the Puea Thai Party that was ousted in a 2014 coup.

Members of the new Thai Raksa Chart Party include Thaksin and Yingluck’s nephew and niece, close aides, and the younger generation of the clan’s political allies. It will be headed by Preechapol Pongpanich, an ex-member of parliament with the Puea Thai Party.

“It’s a political strategy for Puea Thai under the new electoral system to win more seats,” political scientist Yuttaporn Issarachai told Reuters.

Parties linked to the Shinawatras have won every election in the past decade. But the military government’s new constitution, which the military said aims to weaken major political parties, effectively cuts constituency seats in provinces where the Shinwatras have previously held dominance.

He said the party would also serve as a “back-up” should Puea Thai be dissolved.

The Puea Thai Party faces dissolution after the junta ordered the Election Commission to investigate whether Thaksin was still controlling Puea Thai.

The former telecommunications tycoon was ousted in a 2006 coup and has since lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a graft conviction in 2008 he says was politically motivated. He faces separate corruption charges from 2008 and 2012.

Yingluck fled Thailand in August last year just before a court found her guilty of criminal negligence. She was handed down a five-year jail term in absentia.

Parties linked to the Shinawatras have won every election in the past decade. But the military government’s new constitution, which the military said aims to weaken major political parties, effectively cuts constituency seats in provinces where the Shinawatras have previously held dominance.

But the Shinawatras remain immensely popular, especially in the rural northeastern provinces.

Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Nick Macfie

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