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Thailand Postpones Rerun of General Elections


Thailand's new election commission has postponed general elections scheduled for October for at least a month. The announcement comes amid uncertainties over whether Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra will stay on if his Thai Rak Thai Party wins at the polls.

The new election commission met for the first time Thursday and confirmed the general elections originally set for October 15 would be delayed.

Commission chairman, Apichart Sukkakanont, said the elections may be held either November 19 or 26.

Earlier this year, senior judges nullified elections held on April 2.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called that poll ahead of schedule to put an end to weeks of demonstrations demanding his resignation. But the opposition parties boycotted the vote and the results were inconclusive, leading the courts to annul the election.

A tentative date of October 15 was set for a new vote.

The election commission that oversaw April's election was forced to resign over charges of assisting the prime minister's Thai Rak Thai Party in byelections later in April.

Mr. Thaksin and his cabinet have stayed on as a caretaker government. It is not clear if the prime minister will stay on after the next elections.

In a televised interview Thursday Mr. Thaksin said he may hand over the post to a close supporter. The media has speculated that the deputy party leader and commerce minister, Somkid Jatusripitak, is a front-runner for the post.

But others in the party, such as Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit, say they want Mr. Thaksin to return as government leader.

"Hopefully, I would like to see that," he said. "Personally. It's up to the outcome of the vote, next election."

Mr. Thaksin is currently in Europe and will travel to Cuba for the meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement. He then goes to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, returning to Bangkok on September 24.

His secretary, Jakrapob Penkair, told VOA Thursday that Mr. Thaksin will make a statement on his political future when he returns.

"I couldn't speak for the prime minister - he has to make that statement himself - but we have the reason to believe that the country is in need of a clear answer of the direction it's going," said Jakrapob. "When he returns, I believe we can expect some sort of statement on the stance to be made clear from the prime minister."

Political analysts say before the new elections Mr. Thaksin will try to boost his support within the military by backing supporters in the annual armed forces reshuffle.

Analysts say the armed forces are deeply divided between supporters of the prime minister and those opposed to what they consider his political interference in the military.

Chris Baker, an author on Thai politics and economics, says the outcome of the military reshuffle will be key to Mr. Thaksin's final decision.

"The military reshuffle is critical because if Thaksin stays on - leads his party into the election, does reasonably well and decides to stay - the only possible way he can do that is if he has military backing," Baker said. "He is becoming increasingly uncertain whether he can get his people in the right place in the military reshuffle."

Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Party won landslide victories in 2001 and 2005, largely through populist policies that attracted both urban and rural voters. But the urban middle class became increasingly disenchanted due to concerns over corruption.

The Thai Rak Thai party is still expected to win a majority of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, although fewer than the 374 it won in the 2005 vote.