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Thai Opposition Suspends Protests as Nation Prepares for Snap Elections


In Thailand, opponents of embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have suspended their mass rallies two days before Sunday's snap elections. The prime minister is calling the vote a referendum on his government, but the opposition is boycotting, saying the election will not be fair.

Thousands of protestors have been rallying for weeks in downtown Bangkok, chanting for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to "get out."

The protestors want prime minister to resign and allow an appointed, neutral leader to oversee constitutional reforms and new elections.

Mr. Thaksin, however, has refused to resign, and is urging Thais to deliver their verdict on his leadership in the election he called for Sunday.

Mr. Thaksin says whether one votes for him or not, it is everyone's duty to vote.

The prime minister five weeks ago dissolved parliament amid popular anger over his family's tax-free sale of $2 billion worth of shares in the company he founded.

Since then, protestors have held almost daily rallies accusing his government of corruption and abuse of office.

The last rally was on Thursday, but one of the protest leaders, media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, says the demonstrators are only observing a brief pause.

"We'll be coming back with full force, because we firmly believe that this election is going to be full of fraud and vote rigging," he said.

Mr. Thaksin's party is running virtually unopposed, because the three main opposition parties are boycotting.

The author of several books on Thailand, Chris Baker, says as a result, the election is not likely to end the political crisis.

"The Prime Minister is intent on going through with the election," he said. "It's an election he can't lose because he doesn't really have any opposition. But he can't win either, because it will not be seen as a serious election."

Ruling party candidates are running unopposed in more than two-thirds of the voting districts, but several dozen of them are not expected to receive the 20 percent of the eligible votes within their district that they need to be elected. As a result, the new parliament may not be able to convene.

Chulalongkorn University Professor Thitinan Pongsuthirak says Mr. Thaksin can try to ride out the storm, but the opposition will not go away.

"He can drag this on for months to come, but he'll be presiding over an ungovernable country. All the major policy initiatives that he has taken will stall or be reversed even. So it's not really an attractive option for him," he said.

Thitinan says the prime minister needs to find a way to appease his critics without upsetting his supporters, most of them from the provinces, who have been angered by the protests coming from what they see as Bangkok-based elites.

Several hundred Thaksin supporters Thursday night stormed an opposition rally in the northern city of Chang Mai, forcing the speakers to leave. No one was hurt, but it underscored the worry that growing frustrations over the stalemate could lead to violence.

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