Thai PM's speech boosts ruling party's election chances

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 24, 2011 9:14 AM
Thai PM's speech boosts ruling party's election chances

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A tirade by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva against ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra could garner more support for his ruling Democrat Party in a July 3 election, but a win looks unlikely as the main opposition races ahead in opinion polls.

After a month of low-key campaigning, Abhisit ramped up the rhetoric at a rally late on Thursday, urging the public to back his Democrats and "detoxify" Thailand by thwarting the fugitive Thaksin's bid to wrestle back power from exile.

Speaking to a crowd of 12,000 people in central Bangkok, Abhisit urged Thaksin to "stop hurting Thailand" and said Thaksin's Puea Thai Party, led by sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was a vehicle to whitewash the tycoon of his graft conviction.

Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said Abhisit's impassioned speech may win over some swing voters and reduce the deficit between the Democrats and Puea Thai.

"The rally may convince five percent of eligible voters who remain undecided to go for the Democrats. That is a meaningful improvement," Somjai said.

"I believe Puea Thai's momentum is already peaking and can only fade in the last lap when the Democrats will try to exploit public perception of Yingluck's political inexperience."

Any progress at Puea Thai's expense over the next eight days could be significant for the Democrat Party as it could still lead a government if it finishes second in the ballot and Puea Thai is unable to form a coalition.

Analysts say smaller parties might see an alliance with Abhisit's Democrats as a safer bet than with Puea Thai because of its links with Thaksin, who is widely reviled by Thailand's powerful establishment elites and military.

Abhisit's speech took place at Bangkok's Ratchaprasong intersection, a plush shopping district occupied for seven weeks by Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters in April and May last year and the site of bloody clashes between protesters and troops.

In his most emotive comments since the confrontations that killed 91 people and wounded more than 1,800, Abhisit said he had tried to seek a peaceful solution and reconcile all sides of the political divide.

"I have reached out to people who oppose me ... But they instead have accused me of ordering the killings," he said.

"My eyes were filled with tears on seeing the casualties of both military officers and fellow citizens."

Pakorn Preeyakorn of Thailand's National Institute of Development and Administration, said Abhisit's speech could boost the Democrat's chances of staying in office.

"Its chance to clarify the military crackdown would allow it to get its message across, especially to the large undecided bloc which is almost 40 percent of eligible voters," he said.

"We still should not write the Democrats off. They have time to catch up. The media has covered this election like boxing or soccer, expecting a result well before the final whistle."

(Reporting by Vithoon Amorn and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Martin Petty and Robert Birsel)