Thais ‘must accept poll results’

BBC News

A PPP leader addresses a rally in Bangkok, 21/12

Thaksin allies are expected to do well in Sunday’s poll

Thailand’s military has urged voters to accept the results of the forthcoming general election, regardless of which party wins.

Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who deposed Thaksin Shinawatra in last year’s coup, promised that a victory for the ousted PM’s allies would not bring turmoil.

Mr Thaksin’s supporters say he intends to return to the country from exile on 14 February.

Ahead of Sunday’s polls, the ruling generals have passed a series of laws.

They include a controversial measure enabling a powerful security agency to order curfews, restrict freedom of movement and curb the powers of government officials in situations deemed harmful to national security.

General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, file image

I really want Thaksin to come home so that he can see what is right and what is wrong here in Thailand

Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin

The Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) will also be able to detain suspects without trial for up to six months and restrict access to electronic equipment.

Critics say this clause is deliberately vague and could include censorship of the internet.

The new law names Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont as the head of ISOC, but critics feel the measures are designed to allow the military to hold on to power, just before elections intended to restore constitutional civilian rule.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, told the Associated Press the law would be like a “state within a state”.

“The bill will allow the military to control the situation in the future if things get out of hand.”

‘Without chaos’

Gen Sonthi led a coup against Mr Thaksin in September 2006, and ever since then, the military has been trying to justify its intervention by proving he is guilty of massive corruption and abuse of power.

According to the BBC South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, this hasn’t happened, although Mr Thaksin’s party, Thai Rak Thai, was dissolved by the Constitutional Court in May for electoral violations.

Although Thai Rak Thai is not taking part in this election, it has reformed itself as the People Power Party (PPP), led by outspoken right-wing politician Samak Sundaravej.

Thai voters give their views on who should run their country

Campaigning on a ticket of continuing Mr Thaksin’s populist policies and bringing him back from exile, it has consistently led in the opinion polls.

While this is obviously not the outcome the military wants, Gen Sonthi told AFP: “If the People Power Party win in the election and lead a coalition, everything will end peacefully.

“I am convinced that things will change without any chaos.

“I really want Thaksin to come home so that he can see what is right and what is wrong here in Thailand.”

Supporters of Mr Thaksin – who owns English football team Manchester City and has spent much of his exile in the UK – say they expect him to return after the election.

The PPP’s deputy leader, Chalerm Yoobamrung, told a rally on Friday that he would come back on 14 February.

The PPP’s main rival in the election is the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest party, but led by the youthful and articulate Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Neither is expected to win an outright majority, and intense bargaining is expected to follow the election to determine the make-up of a coalition government.

Jonathan Head says any government that emerges from the election is likely to be a short-lived and unstable coalition.

The promise of the coup leaders, to heal Thailand’s political divisions, has not been met, our correspondent adds.

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