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Monday, January 08, 2001

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Thaksin swiftly working on Govt. formation


BANGKOK, THAILAND Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, winner in Thailand's general election, was moving swiftly on Sunday to shape a coalition lineup, but local television stations indicated his party might be able to form a government on its own.

Two television stations monitoring exit polls said Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai, or Thai Love Thai, party had captured 256 of the 500 seats in the lower House of Parliament. This would give the party a majority.

But Mr. Thaksin, a telecommunications tycoon charged with corruption, has said he wanted a majority of about 320 seats to form a stable government.

Despite a strong drive to eradicate graft in recent years, Saturday's election appeared to show that Thais preferred the scandal-tainted Thaksin to Mr. Chuan Leekpai, the scrupulously honest but uninspiring Prime Minister whose success in improving the troubled economy has been spotty.

``If the official results are in line with the exit polls, I regard them as the people's mandate for me to work for the nation, and I will do my best not to disappoint the people,'' Mr. Thaksin said Saturday night.

Earlier exit polls conducted by three television stations indicated Mr. Thaksin's party captured at least 203 and possibly 241 of the parliamentary seats.

Mr. Chuan's Democrat Party was projected to come in second, with 109 to 135 seats. The projections were based on information gathered by reporters, pollsters and non-governmental organizations.

``We are ready to be the Opposition party,'' said Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, deputy leader of the Democrats.

An Election Commission official told reporters that national results should be announced on Monday night, except for four constituencies where balloting problems stopped the voting. Some official results are expected on Sunday.

Despite a record turnout estimated at 70 per cent of the nation's 43 million voters, the balloting was marred by reportedly massive cheating. The watchdog Election Commission said it had received a flood of complaints that could lead to disqualification or revotes for some 100 winners.

Mr. Thaksin said he would discuss forming a government coalition with the New Aspiration and Chart Thai parties, projected to finish third and fifth respectively with about 50 Parliament seats each.

Cobbling a coalition government is not the only challenge Mr. Thaksin faces: his future as Prime Minister hinges on the Constitutional Court, which could throw him out of office for corruption.

The National Counter Corruption Commission ruled last month that Mr. Thaksin concealed some of his wealth by transferring stock shares to his maid and driver while serving in a previous government. If the Constitutional Court upholds the ruling, Mr. Thaksin will be barred from public office for five years.

The court's verdict may not come for several months, and Mr. Thaksin has vowed to take office even if he has to step down soon. During the campaign, he rejected calls to withdraw from the race because of his uncertain future.

Mr. Thaksin, a 51-year-old billionaire, spent heavily on a slick campaign with heavy populist and nationalist overtones. He also promises to spend lavishly to kick-start the economy when he comes into power, but how he will come by the money in cash-short Thailand remains unclear.

Many voters complained they were bored of Mr. Chuan, Thailand's longest-serving civilian Prime Minister, who took office in November 1997 in the depths of the Asian financial crisis. Others said he had failed to improve the lot of the rural poor and create jobs for the urban unemployed.

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