Shinawatra loyalists win Thai election

Loyalists of deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra captured 233 of 480 seats in the lower house of parliament to win Sunday's national election, it was announced today.

Loyalists of deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra captured 233 of 480 seats in the lower house of parliament to win Sunday's national election, it was announced today.

The rival Democrat Party was second with 165 seats, while the Chart Thai Party finished third with 37.

The victorious People's Power Party (PPP) is attempting to attract smaller parties to form a coalition government.

Thaksin Shinawatra lives in exile in London and is the owner of Manchester City Football Club.

The populist billionaire, ousted in a military coup last year, would face numerous hurdles if he attempts a comeback to political power.

Thaksin announced he will "explore options" about returning home in April at the latest.

Speaking in Hong Kong today, Thaksin said he would not resume a political career, but stood ready to advise the PPP, made up of stalwarts from his outlawed Thai Rak Thai party.

The 58-year-old telecoms tycoon turned politician has announced such "retirements" before, only to re-enter the political fray.

Thaksin faces an array of charges related to alleged massive corruption during his six years in office, and he could be arrested when he lands in Bangkok. A five-year ban on political activity imposed on him and 110 others from his party would have to be overturned.

His enemies wield far more power than the rural masses he successfully wooed with cheap credit and health care and who endorsed his proxy party in the election.

These include the generals who overthrew him, elite bureaucrats and businessmen, the urban middle class and powerful figures in the Royal Palace such as Privy Council head Prem Tinsulanonda, if not the greatly revered constitutional monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej himself.

Groups that led mass anti-Thaksin protests in Bangkok, notably the People's Alliance for Democracy, are unlikely to stand still and watch him attempt a power grab. The military could again lend its muscle.

Should the PPP be able to form a ruling coalition government, and that is not yet certain, the party might accumulate enough political clout to change the rules of the game in Thaksin's favour.

Party leader and possible next prime minister Samak Sundaravej has said his government might dissolve the asset examination committee that was set up to investigate corruption charges against Thaksin and might declare an amnesty for the 111 disqualified politicians, including the toppled leader.

Samak's rival for the premiership, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, has repeatedly said he would welcome Thaksin's return so justice could prevail.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, predicts Thaksin's return would be "dramatic".

"He is a polarising and divisive figure," Thitnan said.

"The majority loves him, but a minority despises him. If he comes back, we will be divided and it would be a reckoning for Thailand as to what to do with Thaksin."

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