Mon, Jan 12, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Thais vote in first test of new PM's political strength

AP , BANGKOK

Thais voted in parliamentary by-elections yesterday in the first test of political strength for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s ruling coalition since it took power last month after months of unrest.

Polls closed at 3pm, but preliminary official results were expected sometime last night, at the earliest.

Parliament elected Abhisit, the Democrat Party leader, as prime minister by a thin majority last month. His ascendance to form a shaky coalition government followed the dissolution of three parties in the previous governing coalition after a court ruled some of their members had committed election fraud.

The vote can also be seen as a measure of the influence of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power, but who retains popularity among the country’s rural majority. He is in exile, defying a court conviction on a conflict of interest charge.

Thaksin’s original party and its successor were both dissolved by the courts for electoral wrongdoing, but his loyalists contested most of yesterday’s races under the banner of the newly formed Phuea Thai Party.

Residents of Bangkok also voted in an election for governor of the capital city. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, a member of Abhisit’s Democrat Party, appeared to be the easy victor, several exit polls organized by Thai media companies and polling organizations showed.

Voters in 22 other provinces cast ballots to fill 29 parliamentary seats made vacant mostly by politicians disqualified by the court. A total of 83 candidates from 13 political parties were on the ballots.

The dissolved parties had been packed with allies of Thaksin, whose proxy People’s Power Party easily topped the Democrats in a December 2007 general election.

Abhisit’s party was able to take advantage of months of political chaos caused by protesters opposed to Thaksin’s political machine.

Their sometimes violent demonstrations culminated in an eight-day blockade of Bangkok’s airports in November that made it difficult for Thaksin’s allies to govern with any credibility.

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