Pro-Thaksin party set to win election / Battle centers on whether opponents can stop majority win to form ruling coalit

 DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE + AP Associated Press

(Dec. 18, 2007)

Norimasa Tahara and Makoto Ota Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondents

BANGKOK–The People’s Power Party (PPP), comprising candidates who support ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is likely to win the largest number of seats in Sunday’s general election as it has built up strong support in northeastern and northern Thailand.

The focus of attention now is whether the PPP can win a single-party majority of the 480 House of Representatives seats in the election, which has been called to restore democratic rule.

The Democrat Party, which is the largest party opposing Thaksin, has solid support in its stronghold in the south, but will face an uphill battle as it has failed to win over voters in the capital.

On Thursday, former lower house lawmaker Prasit Tangsikirttikun, 49, a PPP candidate in the election, drew cheers from about 150 farmers in Buriram Province when he said, “Thaksin is the one who improved people’s living standards, and I will carry on his policies.” The province is a stronghold for followers of Thaksin.

In May, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party was dissolved by court order, but his supporters joined the small PPP en masse and took control of the party.

Prasit, who also joined the bandwagon, believes it is the military-controlled interim government that stands between him winning a seat, not the candidates from the other parties.

While he has begun making a second round of visits to all 530 villages in his constituency, he says he is being followed by plainclothes military and police officers.

“They are trying to dig up election dirt on me,” he said.

In early December, nine prefectural government employees considered to be key Prasit supporters were suddenly dismissed, resulting in much soul-searching among other supporters of Prasit.

However, the party’s lead in the northeast region still seems insurmountable.

A recent survey predicted that PPP candidates would win eight of the 10 seats up for election in four constituencies in the province, because farmers, who form the majority of eligible voters, are happy with the low medical fees and low-interest loans for farmers that were introduced by the former prime minister. As such, they regard the PPP as Thaksin’s party.

The party has launched a campaign to win a majority of seats in the lower house.

There were rumors that the party handed out 1,000 baht (about 3,800 yen) to each person who showed up at a support meet for physically handicapped people it organized.

The Election Commission has also begun looking into whether videotapes of the disenfranchised Thaksin, in which he calls on people to vote for the party, have violated the law.

The party may be disbanded if the videotapes, which have been distributed in large quantities, are deemed unlawful.

Whatever happens, the Democrat Party will be trying to minimize the PPP’s winning margin, with an eye to taking the initiative in forming an anti-Thaksin coalition government, even if it has to settle for second place in the election itself.

Over the past 30 years, the Democrat Party has failed to win a seat in Chonburi Province, which is famed for its international sightseeing spot Pattaya, but with a multiseat system being introduced this time, the party plans to clinch three of the eight seats up for grabs in the province’s three constituencies.

Manit Pawasut, who is standing in Constituency No. 1, is among those who bolted from the former TRT party to join the Democrat Party as opposed to the PPP.

“The Democrat Party is clean and imposes few restrictions on its candidates. So I can see how well I can do by my own efforts,” he said.

The Democrat Party hopes to capitalize on a new status quo in the region after a powerful regional leader who wielded strong influence on lawmakers in Chonburi Province fled the country in 2006.

In 2005, the local strongman had offered support to TRT candidates, resulting in them winning all the seats in the province.

However, Democratic Party leaders have seldom visited the constituency to help raise support for Manit or other candidates, indicating the weakness of the party’s organizational power in the area.

Pro-Thaksin party set to win election / Battle centers on whether opponents can stop majority win to form ruling coalit : World : DAILY YOMIURI ONLINE (The Daily Yomiuri)

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