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Thai Leader Says Voters Back Him

Though his party won a majority, the prime minister says, he might agree to step down if a panel he plans to create recommends it.

April 04, 2006|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

BANGKOK, Thailand — Beleaguered Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Monday that his ruling party had received more than 50% of the vote in parliamentary elections, meeting the personal threshold he had set for remaining in office.

But adding that his back was "against the wall," Thaksin said he still might step down if that was the recommendation of a commission of prominent Thais that he plans to appoint in the hope of bringing about national reconciliation.

"I want to set up an independent committee to bring together all those with different opinions to find a way forward," he said during a lengthy talk-show interview on a government-controlled television station. "If that committee tells me to quit, then I will quit."

Thaksin's comments, which came at the end of a long day of vote counting, appeared to do little to end Thailand's political stalemate. Opposition party leaders, who sponsored a boycott of Sunday's elections, dismissed the proposed commission as a ploy to maintain his hold on power.

Thaksin's foes accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, citing his family's sale of its $1.9-billion stake in a holding company days after parliament passed a bill making such a transaction tax-exempt. The maneuver saved the prime minister's family an estimated $667 million in taxes.

Protesters have gathered in Bangkok, the capital, each day for weeks to call for the prime minister's ouster. Thaksin called Sunday's snap elections three years early in the hope of putting a stop to the growing opposition movement.

The opposition boycott resulted in such low vote totals in some parts of the country that at least 38 parliamentary candidates from his Thais Love Thais party who were running unopposed did not reach the 20% vote threshold they needed to qualify to win.

Election officials said new balloting would be conducted in those districts as well as a 39th district in which the Thais Love Thais candidate was disqualified just before the elections.

The opposition contends that parliament cannot convene and elect a new prime minister until all 500 legislative seats are filled. It is unclear how the country's political crisis would be resolved if a boycott succeeded a second time in preventing candidates in the 38 districts from winning office.

As expected, Thaksin won the support of rural voters who have benefited most from his economic policies. However, he appeared to lose among educated urban voters and in the Muslim-dominated south, where his government's suppression of an Islamic insurgency has alienated many people.

The opposition boycott of the elections means that Thaksin's party is poised to control an overwhelming majority of the new parliament, should it be convened.

Thaksin had said he would step down if his party won less than 50% of the national popular vote, a standard that is normally irrelevant in a parliamentary election. In his television appearance Monday evening, Thaksin said his party's candidates had won 16 million votes out of 28 million cast nationwide, about 57%.

His party's total was significantly less than the 19 million it received just a year ago when it won reelection in a landslide.

Thaksin said his proposed commission to address the political crisis would include three former prime ministers, three leaders of parliament and three senior judges.

"I want reconciliation for the country. I will do anything," he said. "I have retreated so many steps that my back is against the wall."

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