BANGKOK, Nov 12 (Reuters) Thailand's People Power Party (PPP), taken over by followers of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, will emerge from a December 23 general election as the biggest party but short of a majority, an independent poll shows.
The poll by the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University showed the PPP would win 180 of the 480 parliamentary seats at stake with the main rival, the Democrat Party, winning 160.
It said 38.6 per cent of 4,410 respondents favoured the PPP and 32.3 per cent planned to vote for the Democrats, Thailand's oldest political party.
The poll, released yesterday, was in line with general expectations after Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was dissolved and most of its leaders banned from politics for five years for election fraud.
The PPP and Democrats will battle to be the biggest party, which will be in pole position to form a weak coalition government under a new constitution designed to prevent one big party taking power.
The PPP, a fringe party taken over by Thaksin followers after Thai Rak Thai was dissolved in the wake of the September 2006 coup which deposed him, will benefit from the continuing support for Thaksin in the countryside.
Although he has lived in exile in London since he was ousted, Thaksin appears to have lost none of his attraction in rural areas which swept him to two landslide election victories.
An August referendum on the new constitution showed many people against it in areas where Thaksin was popular.
The Democrats, a mainly middle-class party, was expected to capture 22 of the 36 seats in Bangkok in December and the PPP 12, the poll showed.
To form a government, the PPP and Democrats would need the support of the Chart Thai (Thai Nation), which the poll expects to win around 50 seats, or the Matchitma Thipataya (Middle Path Democracy) party, which is expected to win 45 seats. The support of tiny parties would also be crucial.
All parties running in the poll have adopted populist policies similar to those of Thaksin, who offered farmers cheap loans and health care and development funds.
REUTERS RJ KP0929