Page last updated at 03:53 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Elections strengthen new Thai PM

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

The coalition government of new Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has won 20 out of the 29 by-elections held on Sunday.

Mr Abhisit's Democrat Party won seven of those seats and its allies won 13 new seats in the 480-member parliament.

Opposition parties linked to exiled former leader Thaksin Shinawatra won nine seats.

The by-elections were caused by the court-ordered dissolution of the previous Thaksin-linked government.

Turnout was estimated at 60%. The results still have to be certified by the Election Commission and officially announced within one month.

Domestic media said the results would strengthen Mr Abhisit's coalition majority in parliament to 48 seats.

Smoother politics?

"I am grateful to Thai people who cast their vote," Mr Abhisit told reporters.

"I can reassure people that the additional seats that we gained will make the government work more smoothly in parliament," he said.

The Democrats lost elections in December 2007 to the Thaksin-backed People Power Party (PPP), but came to office in a close parliamentary vote in December after six months of sometimes violent protests against the Thaksin allies.

Those protests included a week-long occupation of Bangkok's two airports in late November.

The 2 December ruling by the constitutional court also banned scores of lawmakers from politics for five years because of vote fraud charges linked to the 2007 polls, triggering the by-elections.

Of the 29 seats up for grabs, 13 had been held by the now-defunct PPP - which has regrouped in opposition as the Puea Thai party - and 16 had been held by its then-allies in the Chart Thai party, which was also disbanded.

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.

Thailand remains deeply divided between those loyal to Mr Thaksin and elements of the old power cliques in the military, palace and bureaucracy who felt threatened by his huge popularity with the rural poor.

Bangkok residents also voted on Sunday for a new governor, with an exit poll suggesting that Democrat Party candidate Sukhumbhand Paribatra had got the job after winning nearly 47% of the vote.

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