Thai PM claims victory but support drops
BANGKOK, Apr 3 (Reuters) Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra claimed victory today in Thailand's snap election that failed to resolve a political crisis and he promised to set up an eminent persons group to find a way out of the mess.
Thaksin, accused of corruption and abuse of power by street campaigners trying to oust him, said he would step down if that was what the group of former judges, university chiefs and prime ministers recommended.
Nursing a political bloody nose after a poll boycotted by the main opposition parties, Thaksin said on a television talk show his party won more than half the vote in yesterday's election.
But he said votes for his party had dropped from 19 million at the last general election in February 2005 to 16 million and that 10 million voters had voted to abstain -- effectively a vote against him -- or for minor parties with no chance.
''I want reconciliation for the country. I will do anything,'' he said. ''I have retreated so many steps that my back is against the wall.
Appearing calm at the end of a day of confusion caused by the Election Commission's slowness in releasing results, Thaksin's tally released him from a promise to resign if his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won less than half the vote.
The election, which Thaksin's promise turned into an effective referendum on his leadership, guaranteed constitutional chaos in the absence of the reconciliation with opposition parties and street campaigners he sought.
The Election Commission (EC) said 38 of 400 constituencies had failed to secure a winner, leaving empty seats in parliament and making it impossible for him to form a new government.
The EC said it would hold by-elections in the empty seats, which are in the opposition-dominated south, but there is no guarantee that at the second-attempt TRT candidates will get the 20 per cent of eligible votes needed to win in uncontested seats.
Nationwide tallies trickled out at a snail's pace throughout the day, but results for Bangkok delivered an early blow to the Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire, showing TRT had lost to the abstentions vote by 50.1 per cent to 45.9. A year ago, it won 32 constituencies in the capital.
The political crisis has taken its toll on the economy, paralysing business decision-making and sapping the stock market, Southeast Asia's worst performer of the year.
Bangkok's bourse did rise slightly as foreign investors saw a chance to buy cheaply, but the baht inched lower as the lack of a clear resolution emerged and Thaksin hinted his patience might snap if street protesters failed to accept the results.
''It's time to bring law and order,'' he told reporters after voting with his children, whose tax-free 1.9 billion dollar sale of the telecoms empire he founded galvanised the street campaign in January.
There was no immediate response to Thaksin's promise of an eminent persons group from the opposition parties or from the leaders of a street campaign which has wearied many Bangkok residents with its constant protests.
Analysts say a post-election break before street protests are due to resume on Friday could provide a cooling-off period for talks between Thaksin and his opponents, an ad hoc coalition called the People's Alliance for Democracy.
Some voters in Bangkok disagreed. ''Most people don't trust elections any more,'' said businessman Ponganan Limprajikul, 32.
''I think there will be more protests. More people will come out to join the protests and they could become more emotional.''