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Asia-pacific

Strong early lead for opposition in general elections

©

Video by NELSON RAND

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-07-03

Polls opened Sunday for Thailand's general elections with the main opposition Puea Thai Party showing an early lead. The party is the latest incarnation of ousted former premier Thaksin Shiawatra's old party.

Reuters - In Thailand’s rural “red shirt” heartlands, villagers set out for polling stations early on Sunday, hoping to change the country’s government and avoid further bloodshed after six years of sporadic unrest.

But as they cast ballots in rustic villages adorned with red flags in solidarity with a red-shirted anti-government movement founded to support ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, many question whether the vote will be fair.

They have rallied behind Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, but they fear her Puea Thai Party will be prevented from governing, even if it wins the most votes or secures an outright majority in the 500-seat parliament.

“This is the most important election for Thailand, it will change Thailand,” said government worker Suwanee Thila as she waited to vote at a polling station in Ban Sampran village market outside Udon Thani.

“I will vote for Puea Thai. I want peace. I want a change in Thailand. Thai people will be better off with Puea Thai,” said Thila, clutching a bag of vegetables she had bought at a market offering everything from food to socket wrenches.

On Sunday, the market also served as a polling station, offering them ballot papers to try to fix a political system they see as favouring the elite in Bangkok over the rural majority—frustrations that erupted in violence last year.

In Thailand’s rugged northeast plateau, a traditional red-shirt bastion and home to a third of Thailand’s population, villagers accuse Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat Party of colluding with the army to perpetuate a traditional hierarchy, often at the expense of the poor.

Many have friends or relatives who were arrested or killed when tens of thousands of red shirts protested in Bangkok’s main commercial district last year. Ninety-one people died and nearly 2,000 were wounded when the army broke up the demonstrations.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Full Thai election coverage:
Graphic timeline of crisis: http://link.reuters.com/bac99r
Election preview graphic: http://link.reuters.com/xak89r
Thailand special report PDF: http://r.reuters.com/cad99r
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>

‘CIVIL WAR’

They hope Yingluck can bring back Thaksin, a former telecommunications magnate who rode a wave of rural support to win back-to-back elections in 2001 and 2005 before his ouster in a 2006 military coup.

Thila, like many villagers here, fears another outbreak of violence if Puea Thai wins the election but is not allowed to form a government, in the case of the Democrats teaming up with smaller parties in a ruling coalition.

“It will be war,” she said. “Civil war.”

In Ban Suanmorn village, 50 km (30 miles) south of Udon Thani and surrounded by rice fields, voters sheltered from the hot sun under umbrellas. Under the watchful eye of a sole military officer and a handful of election officials they marked an X next to their prefered party and candidate.

“I will vote for a good person, a good Buddhist,” said Joo Sirisuwan, 82, as he shuffled with his walking stick to the local hall to vote.

Like many rural Thais, he has little faith in Bangkok’s politicians, who he says are more interested in power than the well-being of average Thais.

“I think it is time to take back the power,” he said, after having his ID number written on his palm. He too fears the election will not end Thailand’s political crisis.

“I feel there will be violence, because the politicians are in conflict,” he said. “They have no kindness.”
 

Date created : 2011-07-03

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