World News

Thailand readies for poll unlikely to end divisions

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai politicians wrapped up their campaigns on Saturday on the eve of a general election unlikely to resolve deep divisions since Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a bloodless coup last year.

Officials checks ballot boxes for the country's upcoming elections at a district office in Bangkok December 22, 2007. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

All polls point to a sizeable victory for the People Power Party (PPP), a vehicle for supporters of Thaksin, although the PPP is not expected to win an outright majority and be able to govern alone, analysts say.

Just as unlikely is the army and the royalist establishment allowing the PPP, which has made bringing the still wildly popular Thaksin back from exile its main priority, to form a ruling coalition with “middle ground” minor parties.

The PPP, which has embraced populist policies that won Thaksin two landslide election victories, urged voters at a rally on Friday to bring Thaksin back from self-exile in London by giving the party a majority in the 480-seat parliament.

“If the PPP doesn’t win more than half, Thaksin can’t return,” party candidate Chalerm Yubamrung told more than 10,000 supporters in Bangkok.

Chalerm said he had spoken to Thaksin, who is watching the election from Hong Kong, and believed the former premier would return to Thailand on Feb. 14. He gave no further details.

In a letter posted on a pro-Thaksin Web site on Saturday, Thaksin urged Thais to accept the outcome of the election being held 15 months after the military removed him.

“We may have had different ideas, but from December 23 I would like to ask my Thai brothers and sisters to bury the hatchet,” he said on

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party trails the PPP and might win only 120 seats according to polls, alluded to Thaksin in his final speech on Friday, saying a vote for the PPP was a vote for someone who “cheated the nation”.

If the PPP wins big on Sunday, analysts expect a blizzard of electoral fraud charges against PPP candidates with the aim of disqualifying them or tying them up in the courts.

The army and its proxies are then likely to push for a coalition government led by the Democrats, the main opposition during Thaksin’s five years in power.

But with PPP the biggest party in parliament, and with plenty of support on the streets and powerful friends in the police and big business, such a government would be unlikely to last more than a year, analysts say.

The pre-election uncertainty and fears of violence after the poll has worried the country’s revered monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who made two rare public speeches this week appealing for restraint.

The 80-year-old monarch told judges on Monday their duty was to remain impartial and preserve justice. On Friday, he urged soldiers and police to use their spiritual “strength” to pull the nation out of its political mess.

“The country doesn’t seem to be in a good order at the moment, but you can help tidy it up with your strength,” he said.