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Last Updated: Friday, 4 February 2005, 12:02 GMT
Thai election: Overview
People in Bangkok walking past an election poster
The economy is buoyant ahead of Sunday's election
Thailand holds a general election on Sunday with opinion polls predicting victory for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The BBC News Website looks at the main parties contesting the poll, the Thai electoral system and the key issues facing voters.

Main parties

There are 20 political parties contesting the election, but only four of these are expected to win a sizeable number of parliamentary seats.

Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais ) Party is the frontrunner. It won 248 seats in the 2001 election, and is widely expected to win more than 300 seats this time.

Much of the party's support comes from rural voters. Many of its campaign promises hinge on economic incentives, but it has also pledged to build new roads and community buildings.

Thai Rak Thai's main challenger is the Democrat Party, led by Banyat Bantadtan.

Thaksin Shinawatra on the campaign trail, 3 Feb
Mr Thaksin has stressed his economic record

Running on a populist agenda - pledging more jobs, free education and health care - the Democrats have appealed to the electorate to support them in their role as watchdogs over the government.

Their traditional stronghold is in the south of the country.

Two other parties look set to take a few dozen parliamentary seats each.

The Chart Thai (Thai Nation) Party has promised to fight corruption and expose criminality.

The newly-formed Mahachon (Masses) Party - which includes many former Democrats - is running under the slogan: "A new alternative for Thai people".

It has harsh words to say against Mr Thaksin and his allies, and is campaigning against "CEO-style leadership" and "modern dictatorship".

Electoral system

Voting is mandatory in Thailand and 44.8 million of the nation's 63 million people are eligible to vote.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, with a two-chamber legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The Senate is a non-partisan body with limited legislative powers.

The House of Representatives is made up of 500 MPs, 400 of whom are elected on a constituency basis, and the remainder chosen from party lists.

There are 400 constituencies, with one representative elected from each constituency.

The remaining 100 MPs are then chosen from lists drawn up by each party. The number appointed depends on the total number of votes obtained by the party concerned.

The prime minister and other ministers are chosen from among the House of Representatives, and important players can often be gauged by looking at the party list.

The Thai Rak Thai Party disclosed its list in January, even though it was not legally required to do so.

Mr Thaksin's name was at the top, with the party's secretary-general Suriya Jungrungreangkit in second place.

Key issues

The tsunami disaster on 26 December, which killed at least 5,300 people along Thailand's western coastline, will be foremost in the minds of many Thai voters.

Thai soldier guards Buddhist monks in Pattani province, southern Thailand
Violence continues to blight mainly-Muslim southern Thailand

The thousands who have lost their homes and livelihoods - as well as those who have lost loved ones - will need much support in the months and years ahead.

In the aftermath of the disaster, there were calls for the prime minister to postpone the election, but Mr Thaksin decided to press ahead.

Thailand's response to the tsunami has won praise both at home and abroad, and is generally perceived to have helped boost Mr Thaksin's popularity.

An issue which is less likely to go in the prime minister's favour is the continuing unrest in Thailand's southernmost provinces.

More than 500 people have been killed since January 2004, in a resurgence of violence in the region, which the government has blamed on separatist Islamic militants.

Despite sending thousands of troops to the relatively impoverished region, Mr Thaksin has failed to bring the situation under control.

There have been several incidents over the past year which have sparked criticism of the government - including the deaths of more than 100 people in gun battles with militants in April, and the deaths of another 80 people in military custody in October.

While some Thais praise Mr Thaksin for his hard-line stance in the south, others say it is merely exacerbating the violence.

Another issue which is of concern to voters is the possible resurgence of bird flu.

The government itself has admitted "mistakes and human errors" after it initially covered up an outbreak of bird flu early last year.

With the return of the disease to Vietnam in recent weeks, the prospect of another potential outbreak is likely to be on the minds of voters.

But one issue which is bound to win support for Mr Thaksin is Thailand's buoyant economy.

Under his leadership, economic growth has risen significantly, and Mr Thaksin is widely seen as having delivered on his previous election pledges of cheaper health care and so-called "Village Fund" soft-loan schemes aimed at his core supporters in rural areas.

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