Mon, Feb 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Exit polls show Thai leader with decisive victory

BIGGER MANDATE Early exit polls indicated the president's party had won around 350 out of 500 parliamentary seats, up from 248 won in 2001

AP , BANGKOK, THAILAND

Thai voters appeared yesterday to have handed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra an unprecedented second term with an even bigger mandate, in a victory propelled by strong support from the rural poor and his adroit handling of the tsunami disaster.

Opponents of the strong-willed prime minister, who accuse him of seeking dictatorship through the ballot box, all but conceded defeat before the election but had hoped to limit his expected landslide victory by netting at least enough seats to launch motions of no-confidence.

Early exit polls showed their hopes had been dashed. One poll showed that Thaksin's ruling Thai Rak Thai, or Thai Love Thai, party may have captured as many as 399 out of the 500 parliamentary seats up for grabs. Another gave him 340 seats.

Unofficial results were not expected until late yesterday and the spokesman for Thaksin's party, Surananda Vejjajiva, said he would make no comments until the count was in.

The leader of the main opposition Democrat party, Banyat Bantadtan, appeared resigned to a defeat.

"If it turns out that way [as the polls say], today we will have to congratulate Thai Rak Thai. They will have succeeded. They will have been able to establish a one-party government with a flood of votes," he said, inviting other opposition parties to join him to act as a check on the new government.

The Election Commission conceded over the weekend that the campaign had been riddled with corruption but said it was difficult to catch violators red-handed. An earlier poll estimated that 10 billion baht (US$260 million) had been doled out to buy votes.

High turnout was expected among the country's 44.8 million eligible voters, possibly eclipsing the 69.9 percent in the last general elections four years ago.

Twenty parties fielded 2,289 candidates, but only four or five parties were expected to win seats in the 500-member House of Representatives.

The party that Thaksin created -- Thai Rak Thai -- won 248 seats in its 2001 election debut, and had aimed to capture more than 350 this time.

Thaksin came under fire last year for alleged cronyism, inept handling of the bird flu outbreak and a failure to curb sectarian violence in Thailand's Muslim-dominated south. But his reaction to the Dec. 26 tsunami was quick and effective. Debate about his failings was soon swept off the front pages.

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