Thai leader seeks reconciliation

He says he might quit despite election win


BANGKOK, Thailand -- Embattled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday that his ruling party had received more than 50 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections, meeting the threshold he had set for remaining in office.

But Thaksin said his back is "against the wall" and that he might step down anyway if that is recommended by a commission of prominent Thais that he plans to appoint in hopes of bringing about reconciliation.

"I want to set up an independent committee to bring together all those with different opinions to find a way forward," he said during a lengthy talk-show interview on a government-controlled television station. "If that committee tells me to quit, then I will quit."

Thaksin's comments, after a long day of vote counting, appeared to do little to end Thailand's political stalemate. Opposition leaders, who sponsored a boycott of Sunday's elections, dismissed the proposed commission as a ploy by Thaksin to maintain his hold on power.

Thaksin's foes accuse him of corruption and abuse of power, pointing to his family's sale of its $1.9 billion stake in a holding company days after parliament passed a bill making such a transaction tax-exempt. The maneuver saved Thaksin's family an estimated $667 million in taxes.

Protesters have gathered in Bangkok each day for weeks to call for the prime minister's ouster. Thaksin called Sunday's election three years early in hopes of putting a stop to the growing opposition movement.

The opposition boycott resulted in such low vote totals in some parts of the country that at least 38 parliamentary candidates from the prime minister's Thais Love Thais party who were running unopposed did not garner 20 percent of the vote, which a candidate must receive to win.

Election officials said new balloting will be conducted in those districts and in a district where the Thais Love Thais candidate was disqualified.

The opposition contends that parliament cannot convene and elect a new prime minister until all 500 seats are filled. It is unclear how the country's political crisis would be resolved if a boycott succeeded a second time in preventing candidates in the 38 districts from winning office.

As expected, Thaksin won the support of rural voters, who have benefited most from his economic policies. But he appeared to lose among educated urban voters and in the Muslim-dominated south, where his government's suppression of an Islamic insurgency has alienated many people.

The opposition boycott of the election means that Thaksin's party is poised to control an overwhelming majority of the new parliament if it is convened.

Thaksin had said he would step down if his party won less than 50 percent of the national popular vote, a standard that is usually irrelevant in a parliamentary election. In his television appearance yesterday evening, Thaksin said his party's candidates had won 57 percent of the votes.

Richard C. Paddock writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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