Thailand set to have first female prime minister

Thailand set to have first female prime minister

Thailand on Monday moved towards installing its first female prime minister after the opposition Pheu Thai Party secured a majority of seats in the lower house of Parliament in weekend polls, according to preliminary vote counts, dpa reported.

Pheu Thai - whose prime minister candidate is Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra - won 265 of the 500 contested seats in Sunday's general election, according to the Election Commission's count of more than 99 per cent of the ballots.

The incumbent Democrat Party, led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, won 159 seats, including 23 of the 33 contested seats in Bangkok.

The voting results left Thailand neatly divided along regional lines with Pheu Thai dominating the north and north-east while the Democrats have retained their popularity in the south and the capital, Thailand's more prosperous areas.

Other smaller parties that won seats were Bhumjaithai, 34 seats; Chatthaipattana, 19; Chatpattana Pheupandin, seven; Palang Chon, seven; Rakprathetthai, four; Matabum, two; Raksanti, one; Mahachon, one; and the New Democrat Party, one.

The Election Commission's count was still unofficial. Over the next two weeks, it is to investigate hundreds of allegations of vote buying and election fraud that could lead to several elected candidates losing their seats and the dissolution of political parties.

At a press conference late Sunday, Yingluck confirmed that Pheu Thai had already approached Chatthaipattana to form a coalition government. Chatpattana Pheupandin was also expected to join.

Abhisit, 46, conceded defeat Sunday night and vowed to turn the Democrat Party into an effective opposition.

Yingluck, a former businesswoman with no political experience other than her successful election campaign, is now on track to become premier after her brother, still popular despite being ousted in a 2006 coup and the de-facto Pheu Thai leader, picked her as its prime minister candidate, describing her as his "clone."

Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who has been living in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a two-year jail sentence on a conviction for abuse of power, acknowledged in an interview that his little sister faces "a tough job" ahead of her.

Thailand has been deeply divided since early 2006 when Bangkok's middle classes and political elites turned against Thaksin's increasingly autocratic, self-serving rule.

He was toppled in a military coup, sentenced and had 46 billion baht (1.5 billion dollars) in family assets confiscated by the Supreme Court in 2010.

Any efforts by Pheu Thai to grant Thaksin an amnesty would run into serious opposition, analysts said.

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