BANGKOK, Nov 16 (Reuters) Candidate registration closed today for Thailand's December 23 election, a poll meant to usher in a revitalised democracy after last year's coup but which looks set instead to sow instability and confusion.
Opinion polls point to the People Power Party (PPP) run by supporters of ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra winning, but falling short of an absolute majority.
Analysts say the generals who ousted Thaksin will do anything -- including launching another coup -- to stop his proxy from forming a coalition and making a government.
''No matter how the PPP fares on election day, the likelihood is that it will end up on the opposition benches,'' said political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak at Bangkok's Chulanongkorn University.
''The military and interim government of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont will do everything in its power to ensure a non-PPP government,'' he wrote in the Bangkok Post.
With the PPP excluded by fair means or foul, analysts say the Democrats -- the main opposition party during Thaksin's five years in office -- will be in the driving seat.
However, PPP and Thaksin loyalists are unlikely to sit idly by, suggesting that a Democrat-led coalition would probably not complete a full four-year term, top politicians told Reuters.
The worst-case scenario envisages bloodshed as Thaksin's friends and foes face off in the streets, making military intervention inevitable, according to a lawmaker in the army-appointed parliament who predicted the 2006 coup three weeks before it happened.
''We will see a repeat of Oct 6,'' he said referring to the crackdown on pro-democracy protesters at a Bangkok university in 1976, in which dozens were killed and thousands fled to jungles to join a Communist insurgency.
Others did not predict violence, but agreed the election would cause more political problems.
''It will be hot, but won't be any hotter than the midday sun,'' said former Thaksin minister Suwat Liptapanlop, referring to the anti-Thaksin street protests that paralysed much of Bangkok for months ahead of the coup, damaging the economy.
THAIS LOVE THAIS NO MORE? After the coup, Thaksin's hugely popular Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was disbanded and he and 110 other leaders were banned from politics for five years.
But many of his loyalists switched en masse to the virtually unheard-of PPP, presenting coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin with a major headache.
Sonthi, who has retired as army chief to become a deputy prime minister in charge of security, has urged smaller parties to unite against the PPP, saying he must ensure that his coup was not in vain.
Analysts say a new panel set up by Sonthi to combat the vote buying that is endemic in Thai politics is aimed exclusively at the PPP, which has also accused the army of harassing its canvassers.
In terms of policy, there is little to separate the main parties, all of which are promising to introduce a welfare state of some description but without saying how they are going to pay for it.
REUTERS ARB KN1515