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Opponents reject Thai premier's poll win claim

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Apr 4 (Reuters) Opponents kept up pressure on Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to quit today, rejecting his claim of election victory and an offer to let a panel of eminent people decide whether he should step down.

Having called the poll three years early to counter anti-graft protesters calling for his head, Thaksin said he would step down if the panel of former prime ministers, judges and university heads recommended it.

''I want reconciliation for the country,'' Thaksin said on the television talk show. ''I will do anything. I have retreated so many steps that my back is against the wall.'' The offer was rebuffed by the leaders of the street campaign as well as the main opposition Democrat Party, which joined the chorus of disapproval over Thaksin's family's tax-free 1.9 billion dollars sale of the telecommunications empire he found.

Leading opposition parties boycotted Sunday's polls, leaving 38 of 400 parliamentary constituencies without a winner, an outcome that makes it impossible for Thaksin to form a new government as all seats in parliament will not be filled.

On the last night talk-show, Thaksin announced that his Thai Rak Thai party (TRT) had won 16 million votes -- a fall of 3 million from the landslide win in February last year.

He said 10 million voters abstained -- effectively a vote against him -- spoiled their ballots or chose minor parties, threatening continuation of a crisis which has paralysed business decision-making and sapped the stock market.

The Election Commission (EC) today said it had results from 197 of 400 constituencies but did not release the figures. The EC said overall turnout was 65 per cent, but also did not release the number of protest abstention votes.

MASS ABSTENTIONS Media mogul Sonthi Limthongkul, who launched the anti-Thaksin campaign last September, said Thaksin's offer was another attempt by him to maintain his grip on power and that a major demonstration scheduled for Friday would go ahead.

Thaksin did not repeat his recent calls for law and order, seen by some as a threat to crack down on his opponents.

But the results for Bangkok -- some of the few to be released -- delivered a stunning blow to Thaksin, showing TRT had lost to the abstention vote by 50.1 per cent to 45.9.

''The fact that the no votes were more than the votes for Thai Rak Thai in Bangkok is significant because I would have thought that the government needs the support of Bangkok in order to govern well,'' said analyst Supavud Saicheua of Phatra Securities: The opposition boycott allowed the TRT to run unopposed in 278 constituencies, leaving no doubt about the outcome.

But minimum vote requirements meant some seats would not be filled and the Constitution requires all seats to be before parliament can convene.

The Elections Commission said by-elections would be held in the empty seats, which are in the opposition-dominated south, but there is no guarantee they would give TRT candidates the minimum 20 per cent of eligible ballots.

Some analysts had hoped 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.

But the dismissal of Thaksin's offer appeared to kill that.

''I think there will be more protests. More people will come out to join the protests and they could become more emotional,'' businessman Ponganan Limprajikul, 32, said in Bangkok.

Reuters DKS DB1030

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