Opposition wins Thai election

The opposition won Thailand's general election by a landslide on Sunday, paving the way for Yingluck Shinawatra to become the country's first female prime minister.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat in today’s election to Pheu Thai, a party allied with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Bloomberg News reported.

Pheu Thai is headed by Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

In a victory for a red-shirted political movement, television showed Yingluck, younger sister of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, swarmed by flashing cameras and journalists after exit polls showed her Puea Thai (For Thais) party winning a clear majority of the 500 seats in parliament, Reuters reported.

It marks a stunning comeback after years of turmoil sparked by a military coup.

The Thaksin-backed Pheu Thai party will win 313 seats in the 500-member Parliament, with Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Democrat party winning 152 seats and smaller parties taking 35 seats, according to a Suan Dusit Rajabhat University exit poll.

The poll, which surveyed 157,759 people nationwide, correctly predicted pro-Thaksin victories in the elections in 2005 and 2007.

The poll was the first major electoral test for the elite-backed government since mass protests by Thaksin’s Red Shirt supporters last year paralyzed Bangkok and unleashed the worst political violence in decades.

The protests last year killed more than 91 people.

Thaksin, who was ousted by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid being jailed for corruption, describes his sister as his ‘‘clone’’.

Thaksin is adored by rural voters for his populist policies while in power but the ruling elite see him as corrupt and a threat to the revered monarchy.

A Pheu Thai party victory bringing Thaksin’s loyalists to power could prompt the army to stage another coup, especially if the new government moves to grant Thaksin amnesty to pave the way for his return, Associated Press reports.

If the Democrats prevail, aggressive protests by Thaksin’s supporters causing unrest could equally serve as an excuse for military intervention.

Concerns about post-election violence have led investors to sell Thailand’s stocks and currency over the past month. But a clear win by the opposition would make it harder for the generals to justify seizing power.

More than 170,000 police were deployed during the vote, but it appeared to proceed peacefully.

Polls closed at 3 p.m. and unofficial results are expected to be announced after 8 p.m., according to Election Commission spokesman Paiboon Lekprom. The agency will certify winning candidates within 30 days, after which Parliament will meet to pick a prime minister.

The Puea Thai party has proposed an amnesty for convicted politicians, a move apparently aimed at bringing Thaksin home.