New Thai PM tightens grip on power

New Thai PM tightens grip on power

BANGKOK - New Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Monday hailed his government's victory in key by-elections that cemented the shaky coalition's grip on power in its first major test at the polls.

His month-old Democrat Party-led coalition grabbed 20 of the 29 seats being contested and the opposition just nine, according to initial results

released by the Election Commission after Sunday's vote.

The polls boosted hopes of stability after months of political unrest, but came as a blow to allies of ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who had hoped to narrow Abhisit's thin majority in the 480-member parliament.

"The result from the by-elections reflects that people want to see the country move forwards and become less divided," Abhisit told reporters.

Sunday's by-elections were triggered when a Constitutional Court ruling on December 2 toppled the previous pro-Thaksin government and banned scores of lawmakers from politics because of vote fraud charges.

Oxford-educated Abhisit then came to power in a close parliamentary vote on December 15, forming a government with defectors from the Thaksin-backed People Power Party (PPP) and former coalition partners of the PPP.

"The result strengthens the government position," political scientist Prayad Hongtongkhum said.

Election Commission public relations director Ruengroj Chomsueb said that Abhisit's Democrat Party won seven seats and its allies scooped 13, while the two parties linked to Thaksin held on to nine seats.

Turnout was estimated at 60 percent, although the results still have to be certified by the Election Commission and officially announced within a month.

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