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Heavy Turnout Reported in Bangkok City Government Elections - 2004-08-29


In Thailand, turnout was heavy Sunday in elections for city governor that are seen as a test of political strength between the governing party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the opposition Democratic Party. Early exit polls suggested the opposition candidate had a slight lead over the candidate backed by the ruling party. Final results are not expected before Monday.

Despite cloudy skies and summer heat, authorities reported a heavy turnout of close to 80 percent in Bangkok's election for governor of the city of 10 million people.

While the post is seen as largely ceremonial, the election has been considered a test of popularity for the governing Thai Rak Thai Party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which currently holds a clear majority in the national parliament.

Although 21 candidates were competing, the main contest was between a former member of parliament, Paveena Hongaskul, who had the tacit backing of the ruling party, and businessman Apirak Kosayodhin of the opposition Democratic Party. Nakorn Pathomvat, a Bangkok businessman, said the vote was important ahead of national elections due to be held early next year.

"Its good for democracy, and its time for Bangkok again to elect the governor of Bangkok, and I think it should come very close this time," he said.

Candidates promised solutions to the city's infamous traffic congestion and smog, as well as waste management and improved mass transit. But the new governor will have a major budgetary challenge, with some 70 percent of the city's $1 billion budget taken up by wages and salaries.

Prime Minister Thaksin, while casting his vote on Sunday, promised to work with whomever won the election. Earlier, Mr. Thaksin had called on voters only to back a candidate close to the governing Thai Rak Thai party.

While the Thai Rak Thai did not field its own candidate, it threw support behind Ms. Hongaskul, known for her social welfare work, especially regarding children's and women's rights.

Ms. Paveena's main rival in the field of candidates was Mr. Kosayodhin, a 43-year-old former telecommunications executive, who was backed by the opposition Democrat Party.

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