Thai by-elections to test PM's political strength
By AMBIKA AHUJA,Associated Press Writer AP - 25 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Parliamentary by-elections Sunday will be the first test of political strength for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's ruling coalition since it took power in December after months of unrest.
Voters in 22 provinces will vote to fill 29 parliamentary seats made vacant mostly by politicians disqualified from office. A total of 83 candidates from 13 political parties are on the ballots.
Parliament elected Democrat Party leader Abhisit as prime minister by a thin majority last month. His ascendance followed the dissolution of three parties in the previous governing coalition after a court ruled some of their members had committed election fraud.
Those parties had been packed with allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. Yet Thaksin remains Thailand's most influential politician, and his allies easily beat the Democrats into second place in a December 2007 general election.
Abhisit's government was voted in with a majority of 37 votes, with the support of 235 lawmakers in the 480-seat lower house of Parliament. The vote followed months of sometimes violent protests against the former government that culminated in an eight-day blockade of Bangkok's airports in November.
Of the 29 seats at stake in Sunday's polls, 13 belonged to Thaksin allies in the disbanded People's Power Party that led the previous government, and 16 seats were held by the Chart Thai party, which was also disbanded. Chart Thai had supported the pro-Thaksin alliance, but its surviving lawmakers have now switched their allegiance to the Democrats.
Analysts expected the majority of the seats formerly held by Thaksin's allies to go to factions that support Abhisit's government.
"The coalition is likely to retain its majority but the Democrat Party will have to rely more on small parties and factions whose allegiances are fickle," Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University, said Saturday.
Thaksin's loyalists have been staging aggressive but sporadic protests against Abhisit's government, claiming it came to power illegitimately with the help of political pressure from the military.
Thousands of police will be stationed at polling stations and other places to provide security and prevent any attempt to obstruct the polls, said police Lt. Gen. Krisada Phankongchuen.
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