(Updates with U.S. comment in 11th-12th paragraphs.)
July 3 (Bloomberg) -- The sister of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra was set for victory in Thailand’s elections, five years since he was deposed in a coup, after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat.
“There are a lot of tasks we have to fulfill for Thailand to move forward and maintain unity,” Yingluck, 44, who will become the country’s first female prime minister, told supporters in Bangkok. She said she had already contacted one party about forming a ruling coalition and that she expected “other small parties to join later.”
With more than 97 percent of the vote counted, Pheu Thai was expected to win 264 seats in the 500-member Parliament, with Abhisit’s Democrat party winning 160 seats and smaller parties taking 76 seats, according to Election Commission data.
The prospect of a Pheu Thai victory has heightened concerns of post-election violence that has led investors to sell Thai stocks and the currency over the past month. Victories by Thaksin-backed parties in the last three elections, achieved with support from voters in the poorer north and northeast, have been overturned by the army and the courts.
“The message today is that the voices of the marginalized, neglected electorate of Thailand have spoken again,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “They spoke in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and now again in 2011. They have given rise to a new Thailand whether the opponents of Thaksin accept it or not.”
‘Stunned’ by Polls
Exit polls showed Pheu Thai winning by a wider margin. The party was forecast to win 313 seats, the Democrats 152 seats and smaller parties were expected to take 35 seats, according to a Suan Dusit Rajabhat University exit poll. The poll, which surveyed 157,759 people nationwide, correctly predicted pro- Thaksin victories in the elections in 2005 and 2007. It did not provide a margin of error.
“I hope that we will accept the decision by the majority of Thais in this election,” Thaksin told Thai PBS television station by phone from Dubai, where he has lived since fleeing a jail sentence in 2008 for abuse of power. “If you don’t respect the decision of most people, the country can’t have peace.”
Thailand’s army accepts the election result, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters in Bangkok. He reiterated a pre-election pledge from the army that there wouldn’t be a coup.
The Election Commission will certify winning candidates within 30 days, after which Parliament will meet to pick a prime minister, according to spokesman Paiboon Lekprom. The parties are vying for seats in the 500-member Parliament, with 375 chosen in constituencies and 125 through proportional representation.
The U.S. congratulates the Thai people “for their robust participation” in the parliamentary elections, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today in an e-mailed statement.
“We look forward to working with the next Thai government to broaden and strengthen our alliance, which is based on shared values and mutual respect,” Nuland said. “The United States also looks forward to working with the opposition and non-partisan civil society, as we have always done.”
“It is clear that Pheu Thai will win the election,” Abhisit told supporters at party headquarters in Bangkok. “I congratulate Yingluck on becoming the next prime minister.”
The SET Index dropped 3 percent in June, the biggest monthly decline since January, with state-owned Thai Airways International Pcl losing 18 percent. The baht fell 1.4 percent in that time, declining two months in a row for the first time since the end of protests a year ago.
‘Positive’ for Markets
“This will be positive for the Thai financial markets as the election results indicate Thailand’s politics will be stable for at least three to six months,” said Win Udomrachtavanich, chief investment officer at Asset Plus Fund Management Co., which oversees about $900 million of assets. “The government with a majority in the parliament will ensure better coordination on economic policies.”
A clear majority for Pheu Thai may raise the prospect of a return by Thaksin, who has been shaping Pheu Thai’s strategy from exile in Dubai.
Thaksin, 61, who founded what became Thailand’s biggest mobile-phone company, has maintained his popularity among poorer Thais who recall his policies of affordable health care and cheap loans. Parties linked to him have won at least 15 percent more seats than the Democrats in the four previous elections.
Supporters of Thaksin, known as Red Shirts, blockaded parts of Bangkok the past two years to push for an election after smaller parties switched sides that year in a parliamentary vote to give the premiership to Abhisit. The protests last year killed 91 people.
Thaksin’s opponents, who wear yellow shirts as a symbol of their allegiance to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, view the ex-premier as a corrupt billionaire who wants to regain power and subvert the monarchy.
There have been nine coups since King Bhumibol ascended the throne in 1946. Twelve of Thailand’s 27 prime ministers since absolute monarchy ended in 1932 have been military leaders.
Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha urged Thailand’s 47.3 million voters last month not to pick the “same thing” in elections, the last four of which have been won by Thaksin loyalists. In the run-up to the election, Abhisit said Pheu Thai would grant Thaksin amnesty if it wins in an effort to galvanize opponents of the former premier.
Voters “want to send a message to whoever controls Thailand that it’s time to let go of the power,” said Pichai Naripthaphan, a former deputy finance minister who is a leading member of Pheu Thai’s economic team. “It’s time to let Thailand go on to democracy.”
--With assistance from Suttinee Yuvejwattana, Anuchit Nguyen, Supunnabul Suwannakij and Yumi Teso in Bangkok and Angela Greiling Keane in Washington. Editors: Peter Hirschberg, Ann Hughey.
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