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Pro-Thaksin party agrees coalition

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  • Pro-Thaksin party says it has recruited enough parties to form coalition government
  • Electoral Commission: People's Power Party has so far won 232 seats
  • PPP pledges to change the constitution to allow Thaksin's return
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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- The Thai political party allied with deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Monday that it has recruited enough other parties to form a coalition government following its win in the country's first election since a 2006 coup.

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An elephant puts a vote in a ballot box in Bangkok during a promotion for the general election.

The claim drew immediate skepticism from its top rival, which is also wooing other parties to the same end.

With most results in, the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party appeared to have won 232 seats in Sunday's parliamentary election, nine seats short of an outright majority in the 480-seat lower house of parliament, but nonetheless a striking rebuke to the generals who ousted the billionaire populist in September of last year.

The result of Sunday's polls appeared to be a recipe for continuing political instability in Thailand, beginning with the wheeling and dealing needed to form a coalition.

PPP Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee said enough parties had responded to his party's entreaties for an alliance to form a coalition with more than half the house seats. The house is supposed to convene within one month of the election.

"The PPP will form a government," he said. He did not reveal the partners, but said they would be named after Jan. 3, when the state Election Commission is expected to certify voting results.

Surapong's statement was greeted with skepticism by Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thueksuban, who said the PPP's claim would be credible only when all the party leaders involved announced it publicly at a joint press conference. The second-place Democrats took 165 seats, according to the latest Election Commission results released late Monday.

Even if a deal has been concluded, it could fall apart if enough PPP candidates are disqualified for electoral violations.

Sodsri Sathayatham, a member of the Election Commission, said at least 24 winners could be disqualified, while new voting might be necessary in a dozen cases. The commission was barraged by hundreds of complaints of vote-buying and other violations of electoral law. It did not specify which parties' candidates were involved.

A key party now is the third-place Chart Thai, which captured 37 seats. It is led by veteran politician Banharn Silpa-archa, a former prime minister. Earlier, PPP spokesman Kuthep Saikrajang said the PPP was eyeing Chart Thai and another smaller party as partners.

The PPP got most of its support from the rural north and northeast, where Thaksin's programs, including universal health care and generous village development funds, won a hard-core following.

The Democrats ran strongest in Bangkok, where the 2006 movement to oust Thaksin was centered. Only seven of 39 competing parties won parliamentary seats. About 70 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots for about 5,000 candidates.

If the PPP comes to power, said Nakarin Mektrairat, dean of Thammasat University's Faculty of Political Science, "there will be tension and conflicts," in part because of its lack of support from the capital's residents.

Thai politics has been in almost constant turmoil since early 2006, when protests mushroomed demanding that Thaksin step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power, despite his party's landslide victory a year earlier giving it an absolute parliamentary majority.

An April 2006 election was boycotted by the opposition and later declared invalid by the courts, leaving Thaksin's government in limbo until the Sept. 19 coup last year. But the military-appointed interim government that succeeded it proved weak and indecisive, failing to restore public confidence.

Thaksin was abroad at the time of his ouster, and has since lived in exile. He is legally barred from office, his party has been dissolved by the courts, and he has been charged with a slew of corruption-related crimes.

Thaksin's PPP allies announced last week that he would return to Bangkok early next year, after a new government is installed. Thaksin has not yet commented publicly on the election results.

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The forces that helped unseat Thaksin -- the military, Bangkok's educated middle class, and Thailand's elite, including elements associated with the monarchy -- have worked hard to erase Thaksin's political legacy.

They changed the constitution to limit the power of big parties and sought to demonize him as a corrupt destroyer of democracy. His return could undo their efforts and put their own positions in jeopardy. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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