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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 14:44 GMT
Thai official says poll in doubt
Thai prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra
Pressure has been mounting against Mr Thaksin in recent weeks
Thailand's election commission chairman has cast doubt on whether a controversial election set for 2 April can go ahead as planned.

Vasana Puemlarp said a boycott by opposition parties may mean not enough MPs are returned to convene the body.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called the poll in a bid to silence calls for his resignation.

Mr Thaksin has downplayed suggestions he was about to step aside to end the mounting political crisis.

Earlier on Wednesday Mr Thaksin had appeared to indicate he might be willing to step aside temporarily, calling the idea a "good suggestion".

But later in the day he told supporters in the north-east, where he is campaigning: "How could I give up when there are so many people out here to support me. I would be crazy if I did"

Election Commission Chairman Vasana Puemlarp said delaying the election was possible.

Protesters in Bangkok
An estimated 50,000 protesters took part in Tuesday's rally

"It's not a simple decision but we will hold consultations soon. There are many factors to support moving the election date," Vasana Puemlarp told reporters.

Those factors include a required quota of 100 "party list" parliamentary candidates, and the worry that the remaining 400 constituency seats could not be filled by Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai alone.

In two-thirds of the constituencies the party will be unopposed if the election boycott goes ahead, and candidates need to win 20% of the available vote to be elected.

This could be a particular problem in the restive south, where Thai Rak Thai's unpopularity in the face of a long-running insurgency meant the party did not win a single seat in the last election in February 2005.

Royal appeal

Mr Thaksin's comments on Wednesday came just a day after the latest rally against him.

About 50,000 protesters blockaded his office, demanding he step down over allegations of corruption. They have vowed to continue their protest until the prime minister resigns.

The demonstrators are angry at the $1.9bn sale of his family firm Shin Corp, accusing him of tax dodges and betraying the nation by selling an important national asset to Singaporean investors.

Mr Thaksin is also facing pressure over the upcoming election, which critics say is fast losing any perception of legitimacy.

Despite his problems, though, Mr Thaksin has remained adamant that he has done nothing wrong, and has frequently declared he would not bow to "mob rule".

He has spent much of the last week campaigning in rural Thailand, where he still enjoys a high level of support.

But in Bangkok, the pressure is mounting to a point which analysts say he can no longer ignore.

The crisis is also hitting Thailand's economy. Investor and consumer confidence have fallen in recent weeks.

In a rare public appeal from the country's revered royal household, an advisor to King Bhumibol Adulyadej urged all parties to work together to resolve the crisis.

All those involved in the situation are grown ups," Prem Tinsulanonda told reporters. "I would like to appeal to all parties involved to think and act for the best for our country and our people."

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