Opposition Puea Thai party ahead in polls but military may still have the last word

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POLITICAL campaigning in Thailand drew to a close yesterday, a day before an election which could exacerbate the country's six-year-old political crisis just as easily as end it.

Opinion polls point to a win by the opposition Puea Thai (For Thais) party led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, over the Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Thaksin, who lives in self-appointed exile in Dubai after being deposed by the military in 2006, looms large over the election, hugely popular with the Red Shirts supporters of Puea Thai and hated by the Democrat elite who want him to stand trial for corruption.

The risk of turbulence lies in the margin of a Puea Thai win and the reaction of the red shirts, mostly rural and urban poor whose protests last year prompted a bloody crackdown. Key as well will be the response of the military, which has a history of intervening in Thai politics.

"If they cheat there will be protests in Bangkok for sure. It will be the same as the Rajaprasong protest," said Tan Chaithep, chief assistant of the Red Shirt village of Ban Nong Hoo Ling.

The Rajaprasong intersection was the focal point of last year's demonstrations.

If Puea Thai win by a landslide, it would be a "slap in the face" of the Democrats, but would likely provoke the military which has a record of launching coups when riled, said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"It's almost certain the Puea Thai will win," he said. "The question is by how much."

Yingluck said yesterday she was confident Puea Thai would win more than 250 seats, an outright majority, while Abhisit appealed to supporters to give the Democrats the same margin of victory.

"What we would like to see is a clean and fair election," Yingluck said, adding that it was premature to talk about a coalition with any other party.

It is also possible the Puea Thai party has reached a deal with the military - allowing them to rule in return for not pursuing the generals responsible for last year's violence, which killed 91 people, mostly Red Shirts.

If the margin of the win is small, Puea Thai would have to garner the support of smaller parties. Their backing could be contingent on Thaksin serving jail time for corruption as part of any plan to bring him back from self-exile in Dubai.

There is also the possibility the Democrats will team up with smaller parties to get the necessary majority, an outcome sure to bring the Red Shirts back out on to the streets.

At a stadium packed with about 20,000 people, Yingluck called for reconciliation and promised an investigation into last year's violence.

Abhisit warned about 15,000 supporters not to believe her. "They say they will move Thailand forward, but I don't believe they will do so on your behalf," he said.

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