BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) — The Thai political party that backs the country’s ousted prime minister won nearly half the seats in parliamentary elections Sunday with 96 percent of the vote counted — allowing it to form a coalition government, a Thai election official told CNN on Monday.
An elephant puts a vote in a ballot box in Bangkok during a promotion for the general election.
The People Power Party, supported by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is on pace to win 232 seats in the 480-seat chamber, according to Secretary General of the Election Commission of Thailand Suthiphon Thaveechayagarn,.
“We now extend it — (an) invitation, politically speaking, to all parties,” PPP official Jakrapob Penkair said in opening up negotiations for coalition partners.
“There is no party in particular which is discriminated against in this process of forming the government and it depends on each party to respond now. The PPP is listening.”
Jakrapob said he expects it to take a couple of weeks to put together a coaltion government.
The results have been a rebuke to the country’s military, which toppled Thaksin in a bloodless coup 15 months ago, banning his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party.
The Democrat party, the movement backed by the military, was second with a projected 165 seats in parliament.
“The people spoke out and the military should listen to it very carefully,” Jakrapob said.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a Thai political scientist, told CNN that the result reflects a polarized Thai electorate and presents a “predicament” for the military.
“It’s a snub to the coup and the post-coup period. The coup has failed to uproot Mr Thaskin and now the military will be under pressure to try to protect itself, protect its interests. One hopes that it doesn’t do anything hasty,” said Thitinan, who stressed that if there is to be reconciliation, the old order that overthrew Thaksin needs to represent the new voices that have emerged.
Since its transition from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one 75 years ago, Thailand has seen its government overthrown by coups 18 times. The U.S. State Department welcomed reports that the election was conducted freely and fairly and congratulated the Thais on “taking this crucial step toward a return to elected government. ”
“We call on all sides to respect the results, and for a fair and transparent process for the adjudication of any disputes or fraud claims,” the State Department said.
“The United States looks forward to engaging seriously across a range of issues with an elected Thai government, in keeping with the proud history of our warm friendship and strong alliance.”
The result means that the PPP could form a coalition and dominate the government. If it does, PPP leader Samak Sundaravej would become Thailand’s new prime minister with a PPP victory
Samak told CNN Sunday that February 14 — Valentine’s Day — would be a good day for Thaksin to return from exile in London, but that he would have to face corruption charges filed against him.
“He must stay away from politics for a while,” Samak said.
He said a new parliament controlled by the PPP would pass an amnesty law to allow Thaksin’s return and amend the constitution to allow his return to politics.
Samak said he expected the military leaders were ready to accept a PPP-led government.
While dozens of political parties were competing, the race came down to two fundamental choices: candidates backed by the army and its interim government, and those who support Thaksin, a 58-year-old telecommunications tycoon who owns the English Premier League Manchester City Football Club.
Thaksin’s party won two landslide victories before he was accused of corruption and deposed in September 2006.
Military rulers banned Thaksin’s party and changed the constitution, in part to weaken the power of the prime minister. The generals have promised to return Thailand to a civilian government.
Samak, like Thaksin, has tapped into the kingdom’s rural poor, many of whom feel left out of Thailand’s rapid development.
“The rural majority have been awakened,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “This is the real silent majority, and they are not going back to sleep. They will vote for Thai Rak Thai again, under a different name this time: the People Power Party.”
About 5,000 candidates from more than three dozen parties vied for 480 seats in the parliament’s lower house. In most cases, their names didn’t appear on the ballot; voters had to remember them by assigned numbers.
The Election Commission is expected to look into fraud and irregularities cases on Tuesday, and they promise to announce official result by January 3. The lower house must open within 30 days after the election day — January 22
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