Poll in Thailand: opponents make final bid to disqualify prime minister

Opponents of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a last-ditch effort Friday to have him expelled from Thailand 's weekend elections, accusing him of financing his campaign with state funds and other electoral violations. "This is our last hope of blocking Thaksin from the election," said Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the anti-Thaksin movement. "Our charges clearly show that Thaksin violated election laws."

Protest organizers filed a complaint late Thursday to the Supreme Administrative Court , which said it would consider the petition Friday. The complaint accuses Thaksin of using government helicopters and cars for campaign trips and says his ruling party committed electoral fraud. Thaksin, the target of major protests over the past month, has insisted he won't bow to what he calls "mob rule" and has called snap elections for Sunday in hopes of renewing his mandate. The three main opposition parties have said they will boycott the vote.

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party, which won 377 of parliament's 500 seats in 2005, is expected to win another majority Sunday due to Thaksin's solid support among the rural majority. One poll published Friday, however, found that only 31 percent of voters want to see Thaksin re-elected, while 57.5 percent hope he will lose the election.

Voter turnout was expected to be low, according to the survey conducted by Rangsit University , which found that only 45.4 percent of registered voters planned to cast ballots, down from a turnout of 72 percent in 2005 elections. Students supporting the anti-government movement drove through central Bangkok , urging people to exercise their right to vote but to check the box on ballot cards that reads "abstain from voting." They handed out T-shirts and fliers with the slogan, "Vote for No Vote."

Thaksin reiterated a pledge that he would only return as prime minister if re-elected by a majority of voters. "I want to see unity in the country," Thaksin told reporters. "After the election is finished, everyone must respect the choice of the people. If fewer than half the voters choose me, then I will not accept the position of prime minister."

Political tensions flared Thursday when rowdy Thaksin supporters forced an abrupt end to a rally by the country's chief opposition party, the Democrat Party. It was the most violent confrontation so far in a political war between Thaksin's supporters and his critics.

Shouting through loud speakers, a pro-Thaksin crowd of about 2,000 marched into an opposition rally in the northern city of Chiang Mai, hurling chairs and debris before taking over the stage, where Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai were leading an anti-Thaksin protest.

No serious injuries were reported in the incident in Chiang Mai, which is Thaksin's home town, and a stronghold of the ruling party. Chuan, who is currently chief adviser to the Democrat Party, said he believed the violence was planned by government backers.

"Thaksin is well aware that once people are well informed he will be totally unmasked," Chuan told reporters. "He will try any means to stop people from getting the facts." Near-daily rallies by Thaksin's foeswho demand his ouster because of alleged corruption and abuse of power have been growing for weeks in the capital Bangkok . Protests have recently blocked streets and disrupted traffic and business in the capital.

Anti-government protesters Thursday surrounded the Election Commission's offices to ask that Thaksin be disqualified from Sunday's polls for alleged electoral fraud. The commission said it is investigating the charges but that its probe will not be completed before election day, prompting organizers to take their demands to the Supreme Administrative Court .

The protesters claim that Thaksin's party paid smaller parties to run against it to make the polls seem more legitimate and offset the main opposition parties boycott. The ruling party denies any wrongdoing.

Protest organizers also say Thaksin has used government property helicopters, cars, offices for his re-election campaign, violating laws that say campaigns must be financed by party funds. The anti-Thaksin movement hopes that the election boycott will make it impossible to fill all 500 seats in the House, which many legal scholars believe would make it impossible to convene parliament, reports the AP.


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