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Thais vote in first test for PM

THAIS voted under tight security Sunday in by-elections that are the first test at the polls for new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose party is hoping to shore up its shaky coalition.

Voting closed at 3pm for 29 parliament seats, with both Abhisit's Democrat Party-led coalition and the opposition claiming they will grab up to 20 more places in the 480-member parliament.

Early results are expected later Sunday and Monday, Election Commission public relations director Ruengroj Chomsueb told AFP, adding that the day's polling mostly went smoothly.

The Democrats lost elections in December 2007 to the People Power Party (PPP), which was linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, and came to office after a court dissolved the PPP.

Bangkok residents also voted Sunday for a new governor, with the Suan Dusit University exit poll showing Democrat Party candidate Sukhumbhand Paribatra taking the job after winning nearly 47 percent of the vote.

Deputy national police chief General Wichian Potphosri said that more than 34,000 police had been deployed at polling stations for the by-elections.

Of the 29 seats up for grabs, 13 were held by the now-defunct PPP - which has regrouped in opposition as the Puea Thai party - and 16 were held by its then-allies in the Chart Thai party, which has now switched to the government's side.

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