Bangkok : Big rallies in Bangkok marked a final push by candidates in a national election tomorrow aimed at resolving Thailand's sometimes violent six-year political crisis but which many fear will only fuel more turbulence.
Opinion polls overwhelmingly favour the opposition Puea Thai (For Thais) party led by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, figurehead of a red-shirted political movement of the rural and urban poor whose protests last year sparked a bloody military crackdown.
The telegenic 44-year-old businesswoman and political novice has electrified supporters as Thailand's first possible elected female leader, vowing to revive Thaksin-style populist policies — from a minimum wage hike to subsidies for farmers.
Many of her supporters want her to go further and bring back Thaksin himself, their red t-shirts often emblazoned with the smiling image of the former telecoms tycoon, who was removed in a 2006 military coup and lives in exile to evade jail for graft charges he says were politically motivated.
Recent polls suggest Puea Thai could win at least 240 seats in the 500-seat parliament.
But that is no guarantee Yingluck will govern. Most doubt either side will secure an outright majority, opening the way for both to wheel and deal with smaller parties to form a coalition.
"The question is not who will win, but by how much they will win," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"If there is a Puea Thai landslide, it would make things easier for everyone. It would shut up the Democrat Party and make it difficult for the military to intervene."
If Puea Thai fails to win an absolute majority, it might struggle to find willing partners to form a coalition, he said. Many see that as a recipe for unrest.
If Yingluck's red-shirted supporters cry foul and believe the election was robbed, there is a risk they could mass again in a reprise of last year's violent street protests.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a 46-year-old British-born, Oxford-educated economist, is believed to have the backing of the Bhum Jai Thai Party, which could win as many as 30 seats, enough to create a domino effect with smaller parties anxious to avoid being in opposition.
In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Abhisit said he was confident of winning 200 seats. Most analysts say he will struggle to win more than 170.
"Our assessment of the last few weeks of campaigning shows an improving public response," he said.