Thai military 'accepts' opposition polls landslide

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Thailand's powerful military will respect a landslide election win by allies of Thaksin Shinawatra who it toppled five years ago, the defense minister said Monday, easing fears of another coup.

Thaksin's sister Yingluck Shinawatra, a 44-year-old political newcomer who is set to become the kingdom's first female prime minister, was scrambling to form a coalition after leading the Puea Thai Party to victory Sunday.

The election and its aftermath is a major test of Thailand's ability to emerge from a long political crisis triggered by Thaksin's 2006 overthrow, which last year saw the country's worst civil violence in decades.

The Puea Thai Party -- masterminded by Thaksin from his self-exile in Dubai -- won a majority of 265 seats out of 500 in the lower house, the election commission said Monday after the vote count was completed.

That is well ahead of the 159 secured by outgoing premier Abhisit Vejjajiva's establishment-backed Democrats, who have conceded defeat after two and a half years in power. Abhisit resigned as party leader Monday.

The crushing win by Thaksin's allies has reshaped a fractured political landscape, but the party must tread carefully if it wants to avoid alienating other key players such as the military.

Puea Thai has already vowed not to seek revenge over a deadly military crackdown on Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters in Bangkok last year that claimed the lives of more than 90 people and left major downtown buildings in flames.

Thailand's outgoing defence minister, himself a retired general, told AFP that the army accepted the election outcome, easing fears of fresh military intervention in a country that has seen almost as many coups as elections.

"I have talked to military leaders. We will allow politicians to work it out. The military will not get involved," General Prawit Wongsuwon told AFP.

"The people have spoken clearly so the military cannot do anything. We accept it."

Observers say a key issue for the Bangkok-based elite is whether the opposition will seek to bring Thaksin back from Dubai, where he lives to avoid a jail term imposed in his absence for corruption.

But even more important may be whether the new government pursues legal or other steps against the generals over the bloody crackdown against last year's mass opposition demonstrations in the heart of Bangkok.

"I believe the military leaders are more concerned about their fates... than about Thaksin's return," said Thongchai Winichakul, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Although Puea Thai has secured an absolute majority in parliament, it is courting other parties including Chart Thai Pattana -- which won 19 seats -- to bolster its hold on the legislature.

"We brought Chart Thai Pattana in to protect against possible defections but it is still uncomfortable in terms of seats and stability," Puea Thai deputy leader Plodprasob Suraswadi said.

The Election Commission is already studying complaints over irregularities, which could see candidates given disqualified and potentially whittle down Puea Thai's majority.

The populist Thaksin is loathed by the nation's elites who see him as corrupt and a threat to the revered monarchy.

An amnesty for the billionaire telecos tycoon would risk infuriating many in the Bangkok-based establishment in government, military and palace circles and could prompt protests by the royalist "Yellow Shirt" movement.

Thaksin, who despite being hugely divisive in Thailand has presided over victories in the nation's last five elections, called on all sides to respect the result and said he did not "want to cause trouble" by returning home.

"I think people want to see reconciliation. They want to move forward," he said. "We will not seek revenge," the former telecom tycoon told Thai television Sunday.

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