Thai elections strengthen new Abhisit govt
Thailand's ruling coalition strengthened its grip on power Monday after winning the most seats in parliamentary by-elections against allies of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Unofficial results showed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party and its coalition allies capturing as many as 20 of the 29 parliamentary seats at stake in Sunday's polling, Election Commissioner Apichart Sukhakanont said.
An official tally was to be released later Monday.
The polls were the first since Thaksin's political allies were ousted from power in December by a court ruling and parliamentary manoeuvring and replaced by a coalition led by the rival Democrat Party.
"The results show that the public wants the country to move forward. People want to reduce political rift," Abhisit told reporters.
Parliament elected Abhisit as the nation's leader by a thin majority last month. His ascendance to form a shaky coalition government followed the dissolution of three parties in the previous governing coalition of Thaksin allies after a court ruled some of their members had committed election fraud.
Voters in 22 provinces cast ballots Sunday to fill the 29 seats made vacant mostly by politicians disqualified by the court ruling.
The dissolved parties had been packed with allies of Thaksin, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. He is in exile, defying a court conviction on a conflict of interest charge.
Thaksin twice led his party to impressive election victories and he retains popularity among the country's rural majority. His loyalists contested most of Sunday's races under the banner of the newly formed Phuea Thai Party.
Abhisit's government plans to implement a 300 billion baht ($8.6 billion) stimulus package in the next few weeks to boost domestic demand and woo poor voters in rural Thailand.
Analysts said the election results may ease concerns that Abhisit lacked a popular mandate because his party did not win general elections in December 2007.
"It will be easier (for the coalition) to pass measures to help boost the economy and ward off attempts to bring down the government," said Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok's Ramkhamhaeng University. "But it does not mean it will be more stable. (The prime minister) will have to rely more on small parties and factions who have their own demands and agenda."
The Democrat Party came to power after months of political chaos caused by protesters opposed to Thaksin's political machine. Their sometimes violent demonstrations culminated in an eight-day blockade of Bangkok's airports in November that made it difficult for Thaksin's allies to govern with any credibility.
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 Democrats received the support of politicians who had formerly been allied with the pro-Thaksin coalition government.