BANGKOK, July 3, 2011 (AFP) - Opposition allies of Thai fugitive ex-leader Thaksin Shinawatra scored a landslide election win, exit polls showed Sunday, marking a stunning comeback after years of turmoil sparked by a military coup.
The poll was the first major electoral test for the elite-backed government since mass protests by Thaksin's "Red Shirt" supporters last year paralysed Bangkok and unleashed the worst political violence in decades.
Thaksin's Puea Thai Party is set to win 313 seats out of 500, against 152 for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrats, according to a projection by Suan Dusit University. Other exit polls painted a similar picture.
Opposition supporters erupted into cheers at their party's headquarters in Bangkok as television stations announced the news.
Toppled by the military in 2006 and now living in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption, Thaksin nevertheless dominated the election, after tapping his youngest sister to run in his place.
Yingluck Shinawatra, a telegenic businesswoman who is now set to become Thailand's first ever female prime minister, is a 44-year-old political novice described by Thaksin as his "clone".
The former billionaire telecoms tycoon remains a hugely divisive figure.
He is adored by rural voters for his populist policies while in power such as cheap healthcare and microcredit schemes, but hated by the ruling elite who see him as corrupt, authoritarian and a threat to the revered monarchy.
More than 170,000 police were deployed to secure the vote, but it appeared to proceed peacefully. Long queues were seen at polling stations in what was one of the country's most hotly contested election in decades.
There had been fears that a close result could trigger a fresh round of street protests and possibly another coup, but a clear win by the opposition would make it harder for the generals to justify seizing power.
The Puea Thai party has proposed an amnesty for convicted politicians -- a move apparently aimed at bringing Thaksin home, where he faces terrorism charges in connection with the April-May 2010 protests.
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Thaksin allies 'in landslide Thai vote victory'
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