Thai election sparks a fresh struggle for power

 telegraph.co.uk

Thai election sparks a fresh struggle for power

By Thomas Bell in Bangkok

Last Updated: 3:11am GMT 22/12/2007

Fifteen months after a military coup, a general election is supposed to restore stability and democracy to Thailand. Instead, amid rampant cheating, it threatens to open a new chapter of political turmoil.

 Thai election sparks a fresh struggle for power

An elephant dressed in a Santa Claus outfit puts a vote in a ballot box to promote Thailand’s general election tomorrow

The favourite to become the new prime minister is Abhisit Vejjajiva, 43, the suave Newcastle-born, Eton and Oxford educated leader of the Democrat Party. His rival is a 73-year-old veteran, Samak Sundaravej, who leads the People Power Party (PPP).

But the greatest personality looming over the election is thousands of miles away – Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who was overthrown in last year’s coup. He now lives in London and is better known to some Britons as the new owner of Manchester City Football Club.

Mr Thaksin has been charged with corruption and banned from politics, but he is still the most popular politician in Thailand and the newly formed PPP is campaigning on his behalf.

Polls show the PPP is likely the get the largest vote, yet analysts say that Mr Thaksin’s supporters are unlikely to form a government.

A new army-backed constitution, promulgated earlier this year, means no party is likely to win an outright majority, and the PPP is not expected to find coalition allies.

In this widely expected scenario, Mr Abhisit and the Democrat Party would form a coalition.

Mr Abhisit is no crony of the junta, but circumstances have cast the smooth talking son of a prominent Thai family as the only real alternative to Mr Thaksin and his allies.

As such he has attracted the support of Bangkok’s conservative establishment, in addition to his natural supporters among the middle class.

His parents – both medical professors – were working in Britain when he was born in 1964. After graduating in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford he worked as a university lecturer in Thailand before becoming the youngest ever Thai MP at the age of 27.

His rise was rapid, based on a reputation for integrity that is rare in Thai politics, and he became leader of the traditionally liberal Democrat party in 2005. His is a very different political flavour from Mr Thaksin’s Right-wing populism and contrasts sharply with Mr Thaksin’s reputation for epic corruption.

Whatever the result, analysts say that the struggle that has defined Thai politics in recent years – between a conservative elite in the army and the royal palace and the populism of Mr Thaksin – is likely to continue.

The army has been accused of using dirty tricks to deter PPP voters. The military government has accused the PPP of distributing the recreational drug methamphetamine to buy votes.

Thai election sparks a fresh struggle for power – Telegraph

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