Thaksin party wins Thai election by a landslide

BANGKOK, (Reuters) – Thailand’s opposition won a  landslide election victory on Sunday, led by the sister of  former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a triumph for  red-shirt protesters who clashed with the army last year.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Exit polls showed Yingluck Shinawatra’s Puea Thai (For  Thais) party winning a clear majority of parliament’s 500 seats,  paving the way for the 44-year-old business executive to become  Thailand’s first woman prime minister.

“I’ll do my best and will not disappoint you,” she told  supporters after receiving a call of congratulations from her  billionaire brother, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in  Dubai to avoid jail for graft charges that he says were  politically motivated.

“He told me that there is still much hard work ahead of us,”  she told reporters.

With nearly all votes counted, Yingluck’s party won a  projected 261 seats with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s  Democrat Party taking 162, according to the Election Commission.

Abhisit conceded defeat. “I would like to congratulate the  Puea Thai Party for the right to form a government,” he said.

Abhisit Vejjajiva

Exit polls by Bangkok’s Suan Dusit University showed Puea  Thai doing even better, winning 313 seats compared to just 152  for the Democrats, dismal enough to threaten Abhisit’s job as  party leader.
Yingluck’s supporters were jubilant, erupting in roars and  cheers as television broadcast the exit polls.

“Number one Yingluck”, some shouted. “Prime Minister  Yingluck” screamed others, as party members slapped each other  on the back.

“Yingluck has helped us and now Puea Thai can solve our  problems and they’ll solve the country’s problems,” said Saiksa  Chankerd, a 40-year-old government worker.

The results were a rebuke of the traditional establishment  of generals, old-money families and royal advisers in Bangkok  who loathed Thaksin and backed Abhisit, an Oxford-trained  economist who struggled to find a common touch.

“People wanted change and they got it,” said Kongkiat  Opaswongkarn, chief executive of Asia Plus Securities in  Bangkok. “It tells you that a majority of people still want most  of the things that the ex-prime minister had done for the  country in the past.”

The size of Puea Thai’s victory could usher in much-needed  political stability after six years of sporadic unrest that  featured the occupation of Bangkok’s two airports, a blockade of  parliament, an assassination attempt and protests last year that  descended into chaotic clashes with the army.

“Chances of blocking Puea Thai in the near term are severely  limited,” said Roberto Herrera-Lim, Southeast Asian analyst at  political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The instability  everyone has been worried about now looks less likely. The  military will have to be pragmatic now.”

RED SHIRT VILLAGES

Yingluck was feted like a rock-star by the red shirts who  designated entire communities in Thailand’s rugged, vote-rich  northeast plateau as “red shirt villages” to help mobilise  supporters, each festooned with red flags and Thaksin posters.

“This win is very important because it will determine  Thailand’s destiny,”  said Kwanchai Praipana, a red-shirt leader  in Udon Thani province, where the movement had set up hundreds  of red villages in recent weeks.

The red shirts accuse the rich, the establishment and top  military brass of breaking laws with impunity — grievances that  have simmered since the 2006 coup — and have clamoured for  Thaksin’s return.

Thaksin said he would “wait for the right moment” to come  home. “If my return is going to cause problems, then I will not  do it yet. I should be a solution, not a problem,” he told  reporters in Dubai.

Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, scored  landslide election wins in 2001 and 2005 and remains idolised by  the poor as the first politician to address the needs of  millions living beyond Bangkok’s bright lights.

Yingluck electrified his supporters, ran a disciplined  campaign and promised Thaksin-style populist policies, including  a big rise in the national minimum wage and free tablet PCs for  nearly one million school children.

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