Page last updated at 19:21 GMT, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Key election test for new Thai PM

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Bangkok, Thailand. [Pic: 1 January 2009]
Mr Abhisit's Democrat-led coalition has a slim parliamentary majority

Votes have been held in Thailand for 29 parliamentary seats, seen as the first test of support for the new coalition government of PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

His Democrat Party-led coalition came to power in December and only has a narrow majority in parliament.

The previous leadership was forced out by a court ruling and months of anti-government protests.

The court ruling also banned 29 MPs from politics, triggering by-elections across 22 states.

The previous governing party, allied to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is hoping to pick up enough seats to weaken the new government's hold on power.

Mr Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006, accused of corruption and abuse of power. He lives in exile, defying a conviction by Thailand's Supreme Court for corruption.

Public anger

If most of the seats being contested in Sunday's by-election were to go to what is now the opposition, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok, it would erode the government's majority in parliament to the point where it could barely function.

Anti-government protesters, file pic
The previous government was forced out after months of protests.

There is plenty of public anger over the way the Democrat Party was helped into power by the courts and the military, so a swing against it is possible, our correspondent says.

But 16 of the vacant seats were previously held by a party which has now switched to the government's side.

Most predictions in Thailand expect the seats to be more or less evenly divided between the government and the opposition.

If the opposition does significantly worse than that, many in Thailand will conclude it is now a declining force in the country's politics, our correspondent adds, despite its substantial bedrock of support in the populous north and north-east of the country.

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