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Thailand's People's Power Party Wins Election

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Thailand's prime minister was deposed in a military coup 15 months ago, but Thai voters seemed to have remembered him. A party that openly supports Thaksin Shinawatra won the most seats in a parliamentary election. Still, it failed to capture an absolute majority in yesterday's vote. And today, Thailand's political parties get down to some hard bargaining over who's actually going to run the country.

NPR's Michael Sullivan is in Bangkok, the Thai capital.

Michael, good to talk with you again.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Is this a rejection then of the military coup?

SULLIVAN: I think it is, but I also think it's obviously a pro-Thaksin vote. I mean, 15 months ago, the military had this coup. Since then, they've tried very hard to ensure that Thaksin would not come back. They dissolved his party. They've banned him and a hundred of his senior party officials from competing in politics for the next five years, and they came up with a - they drafted a new constitution that would limit the power of any single party in Thai politics in the future as Thaksin's party sat for the last five years. And none of this seemed to have worked. So it begs the question: what was the last 15 months all about?

INSKEEP: And it also raises the question of whether Thaksin Shinawatra is going to return to Thailand or to return to power. Is that possible?

SULLIVAN: It's - both things are possible. I think it's more likely that he'll return to Thailand. I think that's the short-term thing that's more possible. Long term, I don't think he can - he can't really become prime minister again because he didn't win a seat and he's in exile right now.

But, I think if his party manages to cobble together a government here, I think it's very likely that they will get the ban on Thaksin rescinded that he can come back here, that he will presumably not have to worry too much about the outstanding corruption cases against him that they will try to make those go away and that Thaksin can definitely come back and if not be the prime minister, then definitely be the oldest statesman here and the man who's running things. So I think that's very likely, but he can't become prime minister again unless he has a seat.

INSKEEP: Well, the other question then is whether the military is going to allow the return to power of this guy that they deposed.

SULLIVAN: And I think in the next couple of days, if not weeks, we're going to have to watch very closely to see if the military somehow influences what happens here in the formation of a parliament. I mean, a lot of political analysts here suggesting that the military may challenge somebody's result and try to twiddle away at the number of PPP - that's Thaksin's surrogate party that won the election yesterday - to twiddle away if the number of PPP seats in hopes of tipping the scales in the other direction towards the opposition which is supported by the military.

INSKEEP: Is there any doubt, Michael, that the party that supports Thaksin is going to be able to form a government because as we mentioned, they do not quite, even at the moment, have an absolute majority.

SULLIVAN: There's a great deal of doubt. I mean, at the moment, the military clearly must be unhappy with the results of this selection because they deposed Thaksin 15 months ago, hoping to replace him with something better. The upside of what happened yesterday is that Thailand is on the road back to democracy, which was interrupted 15 months ago.

But the downside is it's going to be an unstable democracy because as you said, I mean, we just don't know yet who's going to be the next government - whether it's Thaksin's supporters or whether it's going to be the opposition. There's going to be a lot of horse training the next couple of days. But one thing is for certain; no matter who wins, there's going to be more instability here -likely instability that's been happening for the last couple of years.

INSKEEP: Michael, thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Michael Sullivan reporting from Bangkok, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.
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