Hefty Thai No vote points to messy December election

 Reuters

Mon Aug 20, 2007 7:10AM EDT

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By Nopporn Wong-Anan

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s voters have approved an army-drafted constitution, but a hefty “No” vote suggests December’s general election will be messy, with ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra still a potent political force.

Revising the official results of the country’s first referendum, the Election Commission said on Monday that 56.69 percent of voters had accepted the charter, designed to prevent a repeat of Thaksin’s powerful single-party style of government.

However, 41.37 percent rejected it, sending a signal to the generals who removed the telecoms billionaire in a coup last September that they will struggle to control the make-up of the next administration.

Just over 25 million, or 57.61 percent, of the 45 million electorate voted, with 1.94 percent of the votes void.

Having pressed for a “Yes” vote, the army-appointed post-coup government had been hoping for at least a 60 percent turnout for what will be the 18th charter in 75 years of on-off democracy.

As soon as polls showed approval would materialize as expected, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont announced that elections would “definitely be held at the end of the year”, with December 16 or December 23 the most likely dates.

However, a stony-faced Surayud refused to talk to reporters on Monday when the extent of lingering Thaksin support was clear.

“We missed our target,” Thirapat Serirangsan, a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, told Reuters. “But when you get more than 50 percent of the votes, that’s a majority.”

Army chief and coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin told state Channel 9 television from Kuala Lumpur he was “satisfied” with the turnout even though it was below his target.

Thaksin, 58, has been in exile in Britain since the coup and spent Sunday afternoon watching his newly acquired soccer club, Manchester City, beat Manchester United 1-0 in a match that generated as much interest back home as the referendum.

Dubbed the “Anti-Thaksin constitution”, analysts say it appears to be an attempt to revive the “managed democracy” of the 1980s under ex-army chief Prem Tinsulanonda — now the King’s top adviser and seen by Thaksin supporters as the coup mastermind.

However, with its requirement of just one fifth of MPs to launch a no-confidence motion, it is just as likely to lead to the constantly collapsing coalitions that typified the early 1990s.

NO MORE CONFLICT, PLEASE

Many Thais, especially those in Bangkok, appeared motivated to vote by a desire to see an end to the turmoil that has reigned since Thaksin’s family sold control of the telecoms empire he founded to Singapore for a tax-free $1.9 billion in January 2006.

The stock market rose 4.5 percent, in line with a rally across Asia, amid relief there had been no major upset, although analysts said the “Yes” camp’s smaller-than-expected victory margin suggested the election would be closely fought and dirty.

“This is telling the junta that they are going to have trouble at an election and that could mean all kinds of attempts to influence the result — and that’s worrying,” Bangkok-based political analyst and Thaksin biographer Chris Baker said.

Even though Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party has been disbanded and 111 top members barred from politics, its leaders hope the mass rural support that twice swept it to power will rally to a new party under a new flag.

Referendum voter breakdowns showed a 62 percent “No” in the Thaksin heartlands of the northeast, suggesting the army’s campaign to discredit him and his dissolved party had failed.

Human rights groups have criticized the referendum as a sham, given that nearly half of Thailand’s 76 provinces remain under martial law and that a “No” vote would have allowed the army to impose any one of the previous 17 constitutions.

(Additional reporting by Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul)

 

Hefty Thai No vote points to messy December election | International | Reuters

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