Stark contrasts in candidates in first post-Thaksin election It could be called Beauty and the Beast. As 46.6 million Thais go to the polls today in the first election since a military coup drove prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra from power, the contrast in choices is stark. On one side sit the Democrats, lead by the squeaky clean Abhisit Vejjajiva, 42. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Mr Abhisit preaches honest democratic rule but struggles to compete in the political rough and tumble for the crucial rural vote - a fact his party strategists admit. On the other side is the People Power Party, a new political proxy for the self-exiled Thaksin. Headed by unapologetic far rightist Samak Sundaravej, 72, the PPP offers few policy specifics, other than a return to the free-spending Thaksin days. Back then, cheap loans to poor villagers and even cheaper health care energised rural voters like never before. One of the key PPP members is another political hard man from past struggles, Chalerm Yubamrung. A police captain, he has never been afraid of courting scandal as a feared interior minister during previous coalition governments. This time he is preparing to revive Thaksin's controversial crackdown on drug dealing. More than 2,700 people were shot by police during Thaksin's five years in power in what human rights activists described as extrajudicial killings. The contrasts were brought into sharp relief as the two parties' campaigns reached a climax on Friday night. Mr Abhisit spoke to crowds outside an exclusive Bangkok shopping mall, reflecting the party's popularity with the urban elite. Elderly Bangkok housewives wept as Mr Abhisit pledged to be a responsible leader if given the chance to show Thailand a brighter future. 'If people choose a prime minister who has already announced he is representing someone else, what will happen?' he said. Sirikul Paewkhao was one weeping. 'He is such a good man and would be so good for the country. But I fear he is living in a very tough world.' At a public parade ground across the city, meanwhile, it was taxi drivers and construction workers - many of them rural poor - roaring with approval as Mr Samak pledged a return to the Thaksin era, suggesting he would also bring the billionaire tycoon home. He urged voters to ignore corruption allegations against Thaksin and his disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, saying the cases had not come to court. Noting corruption across the political divide, he described graft as 'influenza'. 'But the coup makers have tried to make it seem like bird flu,' he said to further cheers. Democrat insiders acknowledge the struggle they face in overturning the PPP's lead in opinion polls. In a bid to counter Thaksin's populism, they have pledged free education, cooking oil subsidies and infrastructure spending in a bid to appeal to Thai Rak Thai's northern stronghold. Two-thirds of Thai voters live in the poor northeast. On election eve, the Democrats believe they have made inroads but that victory will come down to coalition negotiations. Neither the Democrats nor the PPP are expected to get enough votes to govern alone. Ukrist Pathmanand, professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University, said it was not a 'normal' election. 'It is being held under pressure from the military,' he told Agence France-Presse. 'There have been no real policy discussions ... the only issue here is whether you like Thaksin or hate Thaksin.' And the military is prepared if Thaksin's fans win, creating a bureaucracy that can act without parliamentary oversight. An internal security law passed on Thursday gives them sweeping powers of arrest, detention and surveillance to act against perceived domestic threats.