April 23, 2006

No sign of end to Thailand crisis despite polls

By Nopporn Wong-Anan

PATTANI, Thailand (Reuters) - Thailand's election reruns
for 40 parliamentary seats on Sunday showed no sign of ending a
constitutional crisis that has forced Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra to announce he will step down.

One person was killed in insurgency-hit Muslim southern
provinces where some of the polls were held, despite police and
soldiers armed with rifles patrolling the lush,
rubber-producing region in armoured vehicles and trucks and on

Thaksin won April 2 national elections but his victory was
undermined by an opposition boycott and mass street protests.
Two days later, Thaksin -- who has denied opposition charges of
corruption -- said he would go in the interests of the country.

The reruns were triggered by the opposition boycott and a
requirement that unopposed candidates must have the support of
at least 20 percent of eligible voters.

Electoral officials in the capital Bangkok said turnout
figures suggested Sunday's polls could still leave up to 10
parliamentary seats empty, forcing another round of reruns next
weekend and meaning no quick end to the constitutional crisis.

Unless all 500 of parliament's seats are filled, it cannot
convene, no new prime minister can be elected to replace
Thaksin and no new government can be formed. Thaksin has
already handed over day-to-day power to his deputy Chidchai

Around half the 40 seats were contested only by Thaksin's
party and the 20 percent rule is tough in a region where the
government is unpopular. A May 2 constitutional deadline looms
for parliament to meet within 30 days of national elections.


Preliminary results from the polls, mostly in southern
strongholds of the opposition Democrat Party, showed candidates
from Thaksin's ruling Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party
lost in at least five of the seats.

The baht currency and stock market staged a short-term
rally after Thaksin said he would not take up a third term as
prime minister, but many analysts said a prolonged political
deadlock would hurt the economy in the medium and long term.

Fear and fatigue were evident in the Malay-speaking south
where a two-year separatist insurgency has killed more than
1,100 people, despite statements from the Buddhist-dominated
government that it is winning against the militants.

Violence persisted despite heavy security in the provinces
of Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani that are home to most of
Thailand's 6 million Muslims.

Before voting began, gunmen killed one man and wounded a
woman near a polling station in Narathiwat. The night before,
militants blew up a bus shelter in Yala and clashed with
security forces.

Last week, five people were killed and 30 wounded in the
region during elections for the upper house Senate.

"No matter how many elections or by-elections we have,
violence never ends in the south," Saringkan Chuwongwuth, 66,
said after voting in Yala.

Electoral officials said turnout was under 50 percent in
some constituencies.

At least 18 voters tore up their ballots in protest against
Thaksin and could face up to 3 years in jail as well as a
possible fine of 10,000 baht ($265).

Election Commission secretary-general Ekachai Warunprapa
said 5 polling stations in the southern province of Nakhon Si
Thammarat failed to open because officials did not show up.
Polling would take place on Tuesday, said Ekachai.

(Additional reporting by Arada Therdthammakun in Bangkok)