NEWS
07/03/2011 11:06 EDT | Updated 09/02/2011 05:12 EDT

Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva Concedes Defeat To Opposition

AP

CBC -- Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has conceded defeat to opposition leader Yingluck Shinawatra in the country's first general election after years of political unrest.

Abhisit congratulated Yingluck, the youngest sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown by a 2006 military coup and now lives in exile in Dubai to avoid a corruption conviction.

"It is now clear from the election results so far that the Puea Thai Party has won the election, and the Democrat Party concedes defeat. I would like to congratulate the Puea Thai Party for the right to form a government," he said on television Sunday.

Two respected exit polls had indicated the opposition party allied to the ousted prime minister would win a majority of the Thai parliament's 500 seats. One poll showed Yingluck's party, widely believed to be Thaksin's proxy, had captured more than 300 seats.

With 80 per cent of the vote counted, official results indicated the Pheu Thai Party would win 251 seats, just over the majority needed to form a goverment.

The apparent election result paves the way for Yingluck to become the Southeast Asian Kingdom's first female prime minister.

Yingluck was addressing reporters at her party's headquarters Sunday night. She declined to declare victory until results are final.

She was earlier quoted as saying if she wins the vote she would attempt to address Thailand's growing gap between the rich and poor.

Last year, dozens of Red Shirt activists, mostly from rural Thailand, were killed in clashes between protesters and troops in the centre of Bangkok.

The protesters were seen as supporters of Thaksin, whose ascent to power in 2001 changed Thailand forever, touching off a societal schism between the country's haves and long-silent have-nots.

The marginalized rural poor hail his populism, while the elite establishment sees him as a corrupt, autocratic threat to the revered monarchy and the status quo.

That schism has played out through pro- and anti-Thaksin street protests since the 2006 coup. Many believe Sunday's vote was largely about the divisive legacy he left behind.

"[Puea Thai] is being led by his sister at the moment, who has absolutely no political experience. She's a complete political neophyte and her only popularity with the Red Shirts, with the rural poor, who are a slim majority of the population of Thailand, is that she's related to Thaksin," Canadian journalist Michael McAuliffe told CBC, reporting from Bangkok.

Earlier in the day, Thaksin was quoted by Reuters as saying he would not return to Thailand if it is seen to cause problems.

With files from The Associated Press