- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2011

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s election winner moved quickly Monday to shore up her party’s already-resounding victory, forming a ruling coalition with four smaller parties and vowing to pursue national reconciliation after five years of instability and political violence over the military coup that ousted her brother.

Yingluck Shinawatra, who will become Thailand’s first female prime minister, said her priority would be “how to lead the country to unity and reconciliation.”

The 2006 military coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, her brother, sharply polarized Thai society, opening up a struggle between his supporters and opponents that culminated in protests and street battles that roiled Bangkok last year and took 90 lives as the army restored order.

The military eased concerns of renewed turmoil Monday by declaring acceptance of the sweeping electoral win of Ms. Yingluck’s pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party.

Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon, the defense minister, said the army would accept a government led by 44-year-old Ms. Yingluck and vowed the military would not stage a coup.

“I’ve said this several times,” Gen. Prawit was quoted as saying by several Thai newspapers. “We are not going to intervene.”

Thailand’s democratic process repeatedly has been thwarted over the years, with 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s.

The lower house of parliament has 30 days to convene, and another 30 days from its first session officially to select a prime minister, but Pheu Thai’s speedy agreement to form a five-party coalition is a sign that a new government can be expected ahead of the deadlines.

Pheu Thai won an outright majority of 265 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament, according to preliminary results from Sunday’s vote. Ms. Yingluck’s five-party coalition will hold 299 seats in all, a figure Ms. Yingluck described as “auspicious” — the number nine is considered lucky in many Asian cultures — and enough to ensure stability.

Although the coalition partners still must agree on an allocation of Cabinet seats, their pact should strengthen Ms. Yingluck’s government-to-be, especially if legal challenges under electoral law force some of her party’s lawmakers from their positions.

The election marked an extraordinary rebuke of the military-backed establishment that deposed Mr. Thaksin, and the opposition’s strong mandate in parliament was likely to boost stability in the short-term — a fact reflected in a sharp rise in the Thai stock market Monday.

Mr. Thaksin was accused of corruption and disrespect to the country’s esteemed constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

But his supporters often has cast the establishment’s rejection of Mr. Thaksin as a case of the privileged rich fearful of letting the poor majority make their voices heard through electoral democracy. Mr. Thaksin also won their allegiance by instituting populist programs such as subsidized housing and health care.

“In many ways, for Pheu Thai voters, Thaksin is symbolic of the lack of democracy and fairness,” commented Kevin Hewison, professor of Asian studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “More than that, the vote is about having a voice that is heard. If you could yell into the ballot box, this is that yell. It is not a ‘rebel yell,’ but a demand for elections and votes that count in Thailand.”

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva meanwhile resigned Monday as leader of the Democrat Party, which has led a coalition government since December 2008, after it won just 159 seats.

Story Continues →