Lawmaker wounded in drive-by shooting close to Thai capital

AP, BANGKOK

Thu, May 12, 2011 - Page 5

A Thai opposition lawmaker was wounded in a drive-by shooting near Bangkok, an attack denounced yesterday as the first election-related violence as the country gears up for tense national polls.

The Tuesday evening attack came a day after Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dissolved the lower house of parliament to hold early elections on July 3. The snap polls open a new front in the political battle between supporters of Abhisit and those of populist former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup.

The wounded lawmaker, Pracha Prasobdee, represented the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party in the lower house of parliament. He was shot in the back and shoulders by at least one gunman on the back of a motorbike while he was driving his car in Samut Prakan, outside the capital, party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said.

“As soon as the lower house is dissolved, they start shooting politicians,” Prompong said. “We suspect a political link here.”

Abhisit visited the lawmaker yesterday at a hospital where he was being treated for the bullet wounds.

Last year, “Red Shirt” protesters, a grouping of anti-government protesters largely loyal to Thaksin, occupied much of Bangkok’s downtown commercial district in two months of demonstrations. The protests, which demanded Abhisit call early elections, ended with a military crackdown and violent street battles that killed at least 91 people.

The demonstrations marked the latest phase of instability in Thailand, which has been gripped by political unrest since Thaksin’s 2006 ouster.

Puea Thai’s pro-Thaksin predecessor, the People’s Power Party, won the most seats in the last elections in 2007 and formed a government that ruled for about a year, but controversial court rulings ordered that the party be dissolved.

Polls suggest that Puea Thai will win the most seats in the upcoming polls, but probably not a majority. Few expect that the election will solve Thailand’s political problems and many fear renewed violence during the campaign period.