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Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Accused of Illegal Campaign Tactics

  • Barry Newhouse

Thailand's caretaker prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is again drawing criticism from opponents, this time for allegedly using government resources to influence voters. The controversy involves Mr. Thaksin's current tour through the country's north.

Officially, the reason for Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's trip through his rural political stronghold is to publicize his anti-poverty programs.

On Monday, officials accompanying him in the north of the country began handing out land deeds and cows to local farmers, supposedly as part of an effort to publicize the programs' successes.

The government's program calls for half a million or more cattle to be distributed over three years.

But the distribution of cattle during Mr. Thaksin's tour quickly drew criticism from politicians such as Likit Theerawekin, a former member of the prime minister's Thai Rak Thai party.

"Giving out a million cows - that is a policy which is risking violating electoral law, and it is unfair to the other parties that have no opportunity to do such a thing," he said.

The prime minister's office announced Tuesday that it would halt the government handouts during the tour. But that is not likely to silence some of Mr. Thaksin's critics, who regularly accuse him of abusing his office for political and financial gain.

Mr. Thaksin called early parliamentary elections for last April, after weeks of demonstrations in Bangkok demanding his resignation because of alleged corruption. The first vote in April was inconclusive, and a second round was eventually ruled illegal and nullified. New elections are now scheduled for October 15.

Both Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party and the opposition Democrat Party face possible dissolution because of election violations. Several members of the election commission that oversaw the voting were sent to jail.

Although Mr. Thaksin has not said if he will run for parliament in October, many Thai political observers see the current trip as an unofficial launch of his re-election campaign.

Analysts such as Sombat Chantornvong, a political science professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, also call it a typical example of Mr. Thaksin's heavy-handed political tactics.

"I think that every government tends to take advantage of being an incumbent. But the present government goes too far, and we have never witnessed anything like this," he said.

Mr. Thaksin stepped aside after the April votes were questioned, and handed power to his deputy. But he soon resumed his full duties, saying the country needed strong leadership.

Political analysts say despite his political troubles, he is still favored to win if he runs in October, with strong support from rural voters.

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