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Thailand to make last attempt to elect MPs

Written by: Staff
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BANGKOK, Apr 25 (Reuters) Thai by-elections this weekend will be the last attempt to fill all the seats in parliament and avert a constitutional crisis, the Election Commission said today.

Commission chairman Wassana Permlarp told a Bangkok radio station there would be no more time to fill the 13 seats left vacant in by-elections last Sunday because unopposed candidates failed to win the required 20 per cent of the eligible vote.

''If, after 30 days, we still don't have a complete house, the time will be up for the Election Commission,'' he said, referring to the constitutional requirement that parliament convene within 30 days of the April 2 snap general election.

The constitution also requires all seats to be filled before it can convene to choose a new prime minister to form a new government, but an election boycott by the main opposition parties makes that unlikely.

The April 2 vote, called by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in hopes of ending attempts to oust him by street campaigners accusing him of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power, left 40 seats unfilled.

All but 13 in the southern stronghold of the Democrat Party, which led the boycott, were filled in last weekend by-elections.

If no one wins them in re-runs on Saturday, it will probably be up to the Constitutional Court to decide whether the 1997 charter might allow parliament to convene with some seats vacant.

In the only precedent, the court ruled in 2000 that the 200-member Senate should not convene with empty seats.

The 20 per cent rule is a tough barrier in the south where the government is unpopular.

Some analysts say they cannot see unopposed candidates of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party mustering the required votes no matter how many by-elections are held.

Thaksin -- who denies the charges against him -- won the April 2 election, but with fewer votes than in his second landslide election victory in February last year.

Two days later, he said he would not be a candidate for prime minister when parliament met again and handed over day-to-day power to his deputy, Chidchai Vanasatidya.

Chidchai or other cabinet ministers have not said what the government would do if Saturday's by-elections fail to fill all of parliament's seats, but top Thai Rak Thai lawyers say the issue will probably have to go to the Constitutional Court.

REUTERS SI KN1253

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