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Thai Premier Claims Election Win; Opposition Far Behind

Associated Press
Monday, February 7, 2005; Page A17

BANGKOK, Feb. 7 -- Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra claimed victory in Sunday's elections in what appeared to be a decisive mandate for a second term, propelled by strong support from Thailand's rural poor and his adroit handling of the tsunami disaster.

With more than half the votes counted, the Election Commission projected Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party had captured 374 of the 500 parliamentary seats, while the rival Democrat party managed 91.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, elected four years ago, displays his ID card before entering a polling station in Bangkok. (Adrees Latif -- Reuters)

Two other parties -- Chart Thai and Mahachon -- were projected to win far fewer seats.

Opponents of the strong-willed prime minister accuse him of seeking dictatorship through the ballot box.

The main opposition Democrats had implored voters to give them the minimum 201 parliamentary seats needed to launch a no-confidence motion. Now they and other critics fear Thaksin may ignore all criticism and establish a "parliamentary dictatorship."

Official results were not expected until later in the week.

"The numbers are more than enough to establish a one-party government," Thaksin declared Sunday after it became clear that he had won an unprecedented second term. On Monday, he said he hoped to form the new government by early March.

Thaksin said the results would "give the world confidence that Thailand does not have any political problems. So the next four years, they will look at our policies, and if they can trust our policies, then they can trust Thailand."

The election commission conceded over the weekend that the campaign was riddled with corruption but said it was difficult to catch violators. An earlier poll estimated that $260 million had been doled out to buy votes.

Twenty parties fielded 2,289 candidates, but only four or five parties were expected to win parliamentary seats.

Thaksin came under fire last year for alleged cronyism, inept handling of a bird flu outbreak and failure to curb sectarian violence in Thailand's Muslim-dominated south. His intolerance of criticism also raised concern.

But his reaction to the Dec. 26 tsunami that smashed Thailand's shores was effective. He rushed to the scene with ministers in tow, barking orders and consoling survivors. Debate about his failings soon faded from the front pages.

Thaksin, 55, is a self-made telecommunications millionaire who rode to victory four years ago on public disenchantment with the slow recovery from Thailand's 1997 financial crisis. His vast fortune helped him forge a nationwide political network.

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