By En-Lai Yeoh
Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — As many as 2 million Thai voters began casting early ballots today in an election analysts say is a referendum on former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the coup leaders who removed him more than a year ago.
Thailand will hold its first general election since Thaksin’s September 2006 ouster on Dec. 23. The military- appointed Election Commission has allowed citizens heading overseas or unavailable on that date to vote this weekend.
The People Power Party, founded by executives from Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, is leading opinion polls, and is likely to win most of the seats in the densely populated, and poorer, northern agricultural belt. PPP officials openly say they represent Thaksin and his populist policies and vow to continue his well-received health-care and local funding initiatives.
“I predict that the election will bring back the People Power Party as a majority,” said Pasuk Phongpaichit, a political analyst from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “Thailand has suffered because of the coup, and we’re lagging behind. The events of the past year have shown that a military government cannot govern Thailand,” she told reporters and diplomats at a gathering Dec. 13.
In 2005, Thaksin became Thailand’s first elected leader to win two straight elections, with Thai Rak Thai winning 375 out of a possible 500 seats.
In a leaked September memo, coup leaders said they could not accept PPP forming the new government. They have also promised not to interfere in the election.
More than 30 parties are contesting the 480 seats in the House of Representatives. The PPP’s closest rival is the Democrat party headed by Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva. The Democrats are likely to link up with smaller parties in an attempt to form a majority coalition.
Thailand’s third-largest newspaper, the Daily News, on Dec. 14 predicted the PPP could win around 190 seats, the Democrats about 125 and the Chart Thai party, headed by former Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa, 58 seats.
Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has experienced 18 coups in the past 60 years, and undergone numerous constitutional amendments.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the junta is abusing laws to prevent the PPP from contesting, and possibly, winning the elections. Tight controls have been imposed in the lead-up to the vote, unlike in previous freewheeling campaigns. Canvassing by non-candidates is restricted and parades are banned
“We know there are only two options in this election,” said KTB Securities economist Isara Ordeedochest. “There will be a messy period after the election, no matter which party heads the government.”
To contact the reporter on this story: En-Lai Yeoh in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: December 14, 2007 20:23 EST
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