(Adds Abhisit comment in fourth paragraph.)
June 14 (Bloomberg) -- Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said his Democrat party would be happy if it won more than 200 of the 500 seats up for grabs in the July 3 election after falling behind in opinion polls due to rising prices.
“Anything above 200 looks good,” Abhisit, 46, said to a group of reporters at his party’s headquarters in Bangkok today. “As things stand it looks like a tight race. The 200 figure appears to be where both sides are on either side of.”
The Democrats are seeking to make up ground after surveys showed the party trailing main challenger Pheu Thai ahead of the contest. Pheu Thai is led by Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives overseas after fleeing a two-year jail sentence.
High prices are one of the factors “that have seen us slip a little,” Abhisit said. “A lot of people are not yet aware of how much we are doing to help them.”
Thai inflation accelerated to a 32-month high of 4.2 percent in May from 4 percent a month earlier. Abhisit’s government has subsidized cooking gas by about 20 baht ($0.66) per kilogram, capped diesel at 30 baht per liter and controlled prices of goods like eggs, detergent and fertilizer.
Concerns that a disputed result will lead to a repeat of protests after the last election that left more than 100 people dead have weighed on stocks. Global funds sold $700 million more local shares than they bought this month through June 13, the biggest drop of 10 Asian markets tracked by Bloomberg data.
The benchmark SET Index rose 1.9 percent today, the most in a month. Thailand’s baht, the worst performer among 10 major Asian currencies over the past six months, gained 0.1 percent.
Abhisit’s party has pledged to guarantee farmer incomes, raise the minimum wage 25 percent and offer two-year interest- free mortgages for first-time home buyers. Pheu Thai plans to give credit cards to farmers, mandate starting salaries for new graduates and charge a flat fee for Bangkok’s mass transit lines.
“Both parties present equally attractive populist policies as far as it appears to voters,” Supavud Saicheua, managing director of Phatra Securities Pcl, Thailand’s second-biggest brokerage by market value, wrote in a June 13 note. “The problem would be the ability to pay for it without cutting further into more useful government-led infrastructure investments.”
The election will be the first test of national support since Abhisit took power in a 2008 parliamentary vote when smaller parties abandoned Thaksin’s allies after a court dissolved the ruling party for election fraud. Pro-Thaksin parties have won the most seats in the past four elections.
Abhisit’s Democrats hold 36 percent of the seats in parliament. Pheu Thai holds 39 percent, with seven remaining smaller parties accounting for 24 percent. The Democrats rule in a coalition with six of those smaller parties.
If the party that wins the most seats “can’t put together a coalition, the next biggest party gets a shot,” Abhisit said. “You can’t put a time limit on it.”
An internal police poll that didn’t include Bangkok or the far south of the country found Pheu Thai leading in half of 331 constituencies, compared with 25 percent for the Democrat party, the Bangkok Post reported on June 12. Of the 500 seats up for grabs, 375 are selected in districts and 125 through proportional representation.
A Bangkok University poll showed Pheu Thai leading in 21 of the capital’s 33 constituencies. The Democrat party was ahead in six districts while six others were too close to call, according to the poll, which surveyed 3,323 residents of the capital from June 2 to June 9. The poll had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.
Abhisit called on Thaksin to come back to Thailand and “show remorse” for his criminal sentence for abuse of power. Pheu Thai plans to consider amnesty as “one of the techniques” to “reinstall democracy” after the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin from power, Yingluck said in a June 8 interview.
“The priorities placed on bringing Thaksin back and amnesty is likely to cause a lot of controversy,” Abhisit said. “It’s not something that people want, it’s not something the country wants right now.”
--Editors: Patrick Harrington, Mark Williams
To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at email@example.com