Thai prime minister claims win but seeks help to solve crisis

THE embattled Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra claimed victory yesterday in the country's snap election and promised to set up an eminent persons group to find a way out of the crisis.

Mr Thaksin, accused of corruption and abuse of power by street campaigners trying to oust him, said he would step down if that was what the group of former judges, university chiefs and prime ministers recommended.

Nursing a political bloody nose after a poll boycotted by opposition parties, Mr Thaksin said on a television talk show his party won more than half the vote in Sunday's election.

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But he said votes for his party had dropped from 19 million at the last general election in February 2005 to 16 million and that 10 million Thais had voted to abstain - effectively a vote against him - or for minor parties with no chance.

He said: "I want reconciliation for the country. I will do anything. I have retreated so many steps my back is against the wall."

Appearing calm at the end of a day of confusion caused by the election commission's slowness in releasing results, Mr Thaksin's tally released him from a promise to resign if his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won less than half the vote.

The election, which Mr Thaksin's promise turned into a referendum on his leadership, guaranteed constitutional chaos in the absence of the reconciliation with opposition parties and street campaigners he sought.

The commission said 38 of 400 constituencies had failed to secure a winner, leaving empty seats in parliament and making it impossible for him to form a new government.

It said that it would hold by-elections in the empty seats, which are in the opposition-dominated south, but there is no guarantee that at the second attempt TRT candidates will get the 20 per cent of eligible votes needed to win in uncontested seats.

Nationwide tallies trickled out at a snail's pace throughout the day, but results for Bangkok delivered an early blow to Mr Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire, showing that TRT had lost to the abstentions vote by 50.1 per cent to 45.9.

A year ago, it won 32 constituencies in the capital.

The political crisis has taken its toll on the economy, paralysing business decision-making and sapping the stock market, south-east Asia's worst performer of the year.

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There was no immediate response to Mr Thaksin's promise of an eminent persons group from the opposition parties or from the leaders of a street campaign which has wearied many Bangkok residents with its constant protests.

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