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Thailand's Political Uncertainty Continues After By-Elections


In Thailand, uncertainty continues over the fate of the new parliament after by-elections failed to fill 14 seats that were left vacant because of an opposition boycott of nationwide elections three weeks ago. Election officials say they are trying to hold another round of voting before a constitutional deadline next week for parliament to open.

The Thai Election Commission Monday announced that by-elections Sunday in 40 districts had filled more than half the vacant seats in the lower house of parliament. But a third round of voting will be needed in at least 14 districts where no candidates had obtained the 20 percent of votes needed to win a seat.

The three main opposition parties boycotted the elections, saying they could not be fair because the ruling party of Thaksin Shinawatra dominates regulatory agencies such as the Election Commission and constitutional courts.

Mr. Thaksin was re-elected prime minister by a landslide last year but he called snap elections for April 2nd after months of demonstrations by protesters who accuse his government of corruption and abuse of power. He denies the allegations.

His Thai Rak Thai party won 56 percent of the vote, but one-third of the voters delivered a strong protest by casting abstention ballots. Two days after the election, Mr. Thaksin said he was taking a leave of absence from politics and would not be a candidate for prime minister in the new parliament.

A political science professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, says Thai politics are entering uncharted territory.

"It's important to try to maintain and to bolster constitutional rule in the months ahead and try to get back to the democratic rules of the game," he said.

The constitution says parliament must convene within 30 days of the election - by May 1, but it also says that parliament cannot meet until all seats are filled.

Because the vacant seats are not likely to be filled by another vote, the ruling party is likely to ask the courts to decide whether parliament can open anyway.

A political editor with the Nations media group, Thepchai Yong, says such a move will aggravate the confrontation with the opposition.

"Any attempt by the ruling Thai Rak Thai party to open the house for the first meeting to elect a prime minister will certainly trigger another round of protests," said Thepchai Yong.

The opposition wants a neutral government to be appointed that will oversee constitutional reform and new elections.

However Mr. Thaksin's supporters want the new parliament to oversee the process. They view the opposition's tactics as un-democratic.

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