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Thais Vote in Parliamentary By-Elections, Fate of New Legislature Unclear


Voters in 40 Thai districts went to the polls Sunday in a re-run of parliamentary elections three weeks ago aimed at ending months of political confrontation between the government and the opposition. Security was tight in the restive south, where most of the districts are located, because of attacks by suspected Muslim separatists that have killed several officials and wounded nearly two dozen people.

Thai voters went to the polls Sunday in an effort to complete parliamentary elections that have been rejected by the opposition.

By-elections were held in the 40 districts that failed to elect members of the lower house of parliament in the first round on April 2nd because of a boycott by the three main opposition parties.

Many voters said they planned again to cast abstention votes Sunday as part of the boycott to protest the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Thaksin was re-elected by a landslide last year but stepped aside as prime minister after the snap elections three weeks ago.

Chulalongkorn University Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak says Sunday's polls are not likely to fill all of the vacant parliamentary seats and as a result it will be difficult for the new assembly to open as required on May 2.

"The by-elections are unlikely to solve what is shaping up to be a constitutional crisis. Basically the lower house is incomplete," he said. "Whether an incomplete lower house can convene is questionable."

He says the Election Commission likely will ask the courts to rule on whether parliament can convene while it tries to hold new elections in the vacant districts.

The Thaksin government would like parliament to open in order to elect a new prime minister. Mr. Thaksin says he will not be a candidate but his party will dominate the body because of the opposition boycott.

Mr. Thaksin's party won 56 percent of the vote nationwide on April 2, but a third of the voters delivered a strong protest vote against his government by casting abstention ballots.

Elections for the Senate - the upper house of parliament - were held Wednesday with similar results to those of the lower house.

Before the April 2 elections, the opposition, which accuses the Thaksin government of corruption and misuse of power, held months of almost daily rallies, which it says could resume if parliament opens because of legal technicalities.

The opposition wants a neutral prime minister to be appointed to oversee constitutional revisions and hold new elections.

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