Thailand's ruling Democrat Party has claimed victory in a key by-election, the first major test of support for the government since the army dispersed anti-government protestors in May.
Polling during a by-election in Bangkok on July 25, 2010
Unofficial results gave the weekend by-election in an outer constituency of Bangkok to the governing Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. "I think Prime Minister Abhisit has done a good job for the management of the government," said Kritti, a company employee who supports the Democrat Party. "Their policy is also good and for all Thai people and I want to have peace in my country."
The Democrat Party candidate, an investment banker, was up against a red shirt leader, standing under the opposition Puea Thai Party banner, but who remains in prison pending charges related to the protests.
Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
'Resumption of normalcy'
The unofficial results gave the election to the Democrat Party by about 15,000 votes. Buranaj Sumatharak, Democrat Party spokesman, said the vote marked a key step back to political normality after the anti-government protests.
"It signifies the intent of the Thai people to have a resumption of normalcy and overcome the divisiveness that has plagued Thai society for so many years. This is a vote of confidence in democracy in Thailand. Hopefully, this will continue."
But analysts say that despite the election victory by the Democrat Party, the opposition still managed to record strong support highlighting the clear political divisions within the country. The Thai language Thai Rath newspaper said, despite the loss the result for the Puea Thai candidate was a "moral victory".
Underlying support for the Red Shirts
Sompob Manaragnsan, an economics professor at Chulalongkorn University, said the vote showed the underlying strength of support for Puea Thai.
"One of the very clear messages is that the opposition group of people – in particular the Red Shirts – is still very strong and still very united. Even though the nominee (candidate) from the Puea Thai Party is still in jail, the outcome of the election still shows how strong, how united they are to support the candidate."
Clashes between the army and anti-government red shirt protestors in May left up to 90 people dead
Blast overshadows result
But the Democrat Party's election victory was overshadowed by a bomb blast in central Bangkok close to the site where anti-government protestors had rallied through April and May. One person died and up to 10 injured by the blast. No one claimed responsibility for the bombing and investigations are under way. But the opposition is blaming forces closely aligned to the government for the bombing to ensure that the current state of emergency is kept in place.
The government is under pressure to lift the state of emergency in Bangkok and 15 other provinces. But a government spokesman said the bombing highlights the need for the decree to stay.
Author: Ron Corben (Bangkok)
Editor: Grahame Lucas