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URGENT Pro-Prime Minister Parties Win Election

July 25, 1988

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Parties that formed Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda’s coalition government won 58 percent of the votes in Sunday’s election, paving the way for Prem’s return to power, official results showed.

The head of Chart Thai (Thai Nation) Party, which polled the most votes in the country’s 17th general election, said his party would support Prem’s continuation as prime minister.

Chatichai Choonhavan told newsmen Saturday night that a ″gentlemen’s agreement″ had been made among the four coalition partners to back Prem, who has held the post since 1980.

The well-financed Chart Thai won 87 seats in the 357-seat House of Representatives while coalition partners accumulated another 123: The Social Action Party took 54; Democrat Party, 48; and Rassadorn (Citizens) Party 21 seats.

Several days of intense politicking and bargaining are expected before the next coalition is forged and a prime minister named.

The candidate who emerges must also be approved by Thailand’s powerful constitutional monarch Bhumibpol Adulyadej.

Interior Minister Prachuab Soontrangkul announced Monday that 16.9 million of an eligible 26.6 million voters cast ballots.

The 63.5 percent turnout compared to 61.4 percent in the last general elections, held in 1986.

The voting was marred by a grenade attack against a local politician in which two persons were killed and six others wounded.

Officials also said Moslem separatists set fire to nine rural schools, a health clinic and a rest house in the southern province of Narathiwat in an apparent attempt to disrupt the elections. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist, but Moslems are a majority in the province.

A total of 3,606 candidates from 16 political parties contested the seats in the lower house of Parliament.

Among the opposition groups, the Prachakorn Thai (Thai Citizens) Party led with 31 seats and the newly formed Palang Dharma (The Power of Virtue) won 14.

The Palang Dharma is headed by popular Bangkok mayor Chamlong Srimuang. Regarded as a potential national leader, Chamlong lives a spartan life in following strict Buddhist precepts and promises politics free of the corruption that plagues the traditional system.

The Ruam Thai (Thai Unity) Party, which is regarded as a possible participant in a coalition government, won 31 seats.

Prem called the election 24 months early after he dissolved parliament April 29, disbanding his faction-ridden coalition government and nullifying a no-confidence motion tabled by his increasingly vocal opposition.

The 67-year-old former army chief, who does not belong to any party, has maintained silence over whether he would accept another term, but most analysts belive he would.

Thai elections are largely centered on personalities, not political platforms, and the main contention has been whether Prem should return or not.

Some people call the low-key prime minister ″Papa Prem″; others criticize him as quick to compromise and slow to tackle national problems.

But Prem, the longest serving prime minister in modern Thai history, has given the country a needed stability after years of coups d’etat and attempted power grabs.

Although his coalition has been beset by factionalism, he remains favored by three powerful institutions: the military, bureaucracy and constitutional monarchy.

There has, however, been increasing concern that the next government - almost certainly to be another coalition - will again become fragmented, forcing Prem to dissolve Parliament yet again or take other disruptive measures.

The election results appear to have provided some continuity: the interior minister said the vote returned 203 former members of parliament while 154 are newcomers.

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