Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thailand enters calm before election storm

A motor bike driver rests near a poster of the Pheu Thai Party's prime ministerial candidate Yingluck Shinawatra, right, at a downtown street at the final hours of political campaigning in Thailand's general election on Saturday, July 2, 2011 in Bangkok. On Sunday, Thailand will hold a general election, its second since a 2006 military coup unseated the elected government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. -- PHOTO: AP

BANGKOK - POLITICAL campaigning in Thailand drew to a close on Saturday, taking a day to cool off 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 party led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, over the Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Mr 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 Puea Thai wins 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.' -- REUTERS

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