By Todd Pitman
The Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s military eased concerns of renewed turmoil last Monday by accepting the sweeping electoral win of toppled ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s party, while his sister vowed to reconcile the deeply divided nation as its first female prime minister.
The election marked an extraordinary rebuke of the military-backed establishment that deposed Thaksin in a coup five years ago, and the opposition’s strong mandate in parliament was likely to boost stability in the short-term.
Thaksin’s overthrow in 2006 triggered years of political unrest, including mass street protests launched by Thaksin’s supporters last year that were crushed in a bloody army crackdown.
Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon said the army would accept a government led by Thaksin’s sister, 44-year-old Yingluck Shinawatra, and vowed the military would not stage a coup.
Yingluck announced an agreement Monday to form a five-party coalition government. Her Pheu Thai party won a majority of 265 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament outright, according to preliminary results of Sunday’s polling. Yingluck said the agreement with four minor parties would boost her coalition to 299 seats.
The accord came unusually quickly for Thai politics, where hard bargaining usually takes place over allocation of Cabinet seats. The pact should strengthen Yingluck’s government-to-be, especially if legal challenges under electoral law force some of her party’s lawmakers from their positions.
The army-backed incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, meanwhile, resigned as leader of the outgoing ruling party, Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks told The Associated Press. The Democrats won 159 seats.
Exiled political analyst Giles Ji Ungpakorn called the election results “a slap in the face for the dictatorship.”
“They prove without any doubt that the majority of people have rejected the military, the Democrat party, and the royalist elite,” Giles said in a statement from Britain. Yingluck told reporters the first mission of her administration would be “how to lead the country to unity and reconciliation.”
“I myself, and Pheu Thai, are determined to serve the nation,” Yingluck said, adding that her government would boost transparency and fight corruption.
Thaksin, her billionaire brother, was convicted of graft and lives in exile to escape a two-year-prison sentence. Thaksin says the charges are politically motivated.
In Dubai, Thaksin hailed the result. “The Thai people spoke,” he said. “They told the world, the whole country … [that] the last five years, the country has gone nowhere.
“It’s very clear,” he said of those who cast ballots, “that they want to see reconciliation in the country, the end of the conflict … it will be a big challenge for Pheu Thai.”
Thaksin said he would stay in Dubai for the time being “doing business,” and if his sister’s party needs advice, he will give it. “If they don’t need it, I don’t have to worry. The Thai people will be in good hands.”
Asked about his return to politics, Thaksin said, “I may be too old … I really want to retire.”
Thaksin and his proxies have won the country’s last four elections. By contrast, the Democrat party — backed by big business, the military, and circles around the royal palace — has not won a popular vote since 1992.
Thailand’s democratic process has been repeatedly thwarted over the years, with 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s.
Thaksin’s overthrow was followed by controversial court rulings which removed two of the pro-Thaksin premiers who came after — one of whom won a 2007 vote intended to restore democracy in the nation of 66 million people.
Those events took place amid anti-Thaksin “Yellow Shirt” protests in which demonstrators overran the prime minister’s office and shut both of Bangkok’s international airports in 2008.
When Abhisit built a ruling coalition with the parties that remained in Parliament after the court rulings and what critics called the coerced defections of some lawmakers to his camp, pro-Thaksin “Red Shirts,” composed largely of the rural poor, took to the streets in protest.
Neighboring Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, meanwhile, welcomed Yingluck’s victory, saying he hoped the two countries would be able to work together to solve tensions along their border over ownership of land surrounding an ancient Hindu temple that have repeatedly boiled over into fighting.
Yingluck said her coalition would be joined by Chart Thai Pattana, with 19 seats in preliminary results, Chart Pattana Puea Pandin, with 7 seats, Palang Chon, 7, and Mahachon, 1. ♦
Associated Press writers Grant Peck, Sinfah Tunsarawuth, and Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok, Michael Casey in Dubai, and Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, contributed to this report.