Vote fixated on man who isn't there

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 July, 2011, 12:00am

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The political billboards festooning Bangkok show everything from burning shopping malls and enraged former bordello owners to monitor lizards in suits - but there is only one name on everyone's lips as Thailand goes to the polls today: Thaksin Shinawatra.

The fugitive former prime minister dominated the final hours of campaigning as his youngest sister, Yingluck, promised rural voters she would bring their hero home from exile in Dubai and resurrect his populist policies.

'Please give a chance to this woman to serve the country,' the former business executive who is vying to become Thailand's first woman prime minister told a huge campaign rally late on Friday. 'Please give a chance to this woman to bring reconciliation back to this country.'

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thaksin's long-term nemesis, and his Democrat Party, meanwhile, are vowing to save Thailand from the 'poison' of the former billionaire telecoms tycoon. Analysts are cautious about predicting the outcome of the election, in which 70 per cent of Thailand's 67 million people - most of them the rural poor - are eligible to vote.

While opinion polls - the last conducted a week ago - gave Yingluck's Peua Thai party a clear edge, smaller parties may yet split the vote and deny her an outright majority in the 500-seat legislature. Days of political horse trading could follow.

That would mean Peua Thai competing with the Democrats to forge a ruling coalition - which may suit Abhisit and his establishment backers.

A nationwide 30-hour ban on alcohol sales began at 6pm yesterday as campaigning formally ended. More than 170,000 police will be on duty today to protect polling stations.

Bangkok is bracing for tension given the urban violence that has plagued Thai politics since generals supporting the royal family ousted Thaksin in 2006 after six years in office. The generals insist there will be no coup this time - something they also claimed in 2006.