BANGKOK, Apr 2 (Reuters) Thailand heads into uncharted political waters today with an election likely to yield a constitutionally invalid result, the latest twist in a long street campaign to oust Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Wildly popular with the rural masses, Thaksin called the snap poll as an effective referendum on his leadership to foil growing calls for his head from Bangkok's middle classes, who accuse him of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power.
However, a boycott by the three main opposition parties means it is unlikely all 500 members of parliament -- required to form a government -- will be elected because of minimum vote percentages required for election.
Post-poll deadlock is almost assured. What happens beyond that is uncertain.
Following are some possible scenarios: ROLLING BY-ELECTIONS: - The Election Commission has asked the Constitutional Court whether it is allowed to hold by-election after by-election until an uncontested candidate gets the required 20 percent of the eligible vote needed for victory.
The court said it could rule only on real, not hypothetical, situations.
According to law professor Prinya Thaewanarumitkul of Bangkok's Thammasat University, poll results from February 2005 suggest at least 60 constituencies are likely to be left empty.
''I can't see the possibility of the party doing better this time when it has lost most of its urban support,'' Prinya said.
''Thailand will be trapped in political uncertainties for month after month.'' VIOLENT PROTESTS: - The anti-Thaksin campaign has amassed crowds of up to 130,000, but there has been no hint of violence. Police and rally organisers appear to be trying hard to keep it that way.
However, a big election ''non-result'' could lead to bigger protests in the capital, especially if Thaksin claims victory.
All eyes will then be on key protest figures like Chamlong Srimuang, the retired general who led a successful but bloody people power uprising against military rule in 1992, to see if they are leaning towards civil unrest to achieve their aims. PROTEST FATIGUE: - Opinion polls suggest Bangkok people are wearying of the protests and the traffic congestion they cause.
April is also the hottest month of Thailand's hot season. Keeping up the protest momentum and spirit will be a major challenge with the mercury touching 40 Celsius (104 F).
One 58-year-old man has already died and sit-in demonstrators outside Government House are complaining of heat exhaustion, sore throats and fraying tempers.
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the ad hoc coalition bent on booting out Thaksin, had hoped to amass one million people at a rally last week.
In the end, it only got 50,000, police said.
ROYAL INTERVENTION: - Palace sources say revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej called a special meeting of his Privy Council in keeping with the ''king's keen interest in following the situation''.
The 78-year-old monarch has interfered publicly in politics twice during his 60-year reign -- on both occasions against military rulers and after bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok.
PAD leaders want the king to appoint an interim successor to Thaksin, but analysts say that could have disastrous repercussions for the future of Thai democracy and see it as an absolute last resort.
''As long as all the feuding camps do not resort to violence -- and I hope they don't -- there should be no justification for royal intervention,'' Thongchai Winichakul of the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote in the Nation newspaper.
The king could act under the charter's vague ''Article 7'', which says unforeseen disputes ''shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional practice in the democratic regime of government with the king as head of the state''.
MILITARY COUP: The army's top brass are promising to stay neutral and say the age of coups is over.
But a few small bombs targeting political figures look designed to stir things up, and in a nation which has had 23 coups or attempted coups in its democratic lifetime, a few disgruntled officers could take things into their own hands.
STATE OF EMERGENCY: Emergency rule rumours have rippled through the financial markets from time to time, even though the army commander in chief says he sees no justification for one.
Thaksin says he is doing all he can to avoid declaring martial law, but told Reuters ''third parties'' might be trying to stir up trouble.
''We will try not to call an emergency situation,'' he said, but added: ''We will call it when it is deemed necessary''.
THAKSIN QUITS: The only time the media reported Thaksin might be thinking about stepping aside, he said he had been misinterpreted.
He says he will never bow to ''mob rule'' and is fighting for democracy. He has offered concessions to his opponents -- the latest being a national unity administration -- but the gesture of his own political head looks highly unlikely.