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Thai election: 2 opposition parties allege cheating

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Confusion over outcome as two opposition parties allege cheating, consider legal challenges

BANGKOK Thailand's first general election since a military coup five years ago was thrown into disarray yesterday as two opposition parties alleged cheating and the election commission said it could be weeks until the make-up of parliament becomes clear.

Confusion over the outcome of Sunday's election raised the spectre of a protracted struggle to form a government, spoiling hopes of a clear-cut result that could have ended 15 years of political turmoil in South-east Asia's second largest economy.

Both the pro-army party seeking to keep coup leader Prayuth Chan-o-cha on as prime minister and the opposition party linked to self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, claimed they would command enough parliamentary seats to form a coalition government.

The pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai party said it was considering a legal challenge over what it said were poll irregularities after partial results showed Mr Prayuth's Palang Pracharat party with an unexpected lead in the vote.

The strong early showing for Palang Pracharat increased the likelihood that Mr Prayuth, who was army chief when he overthrew a Pheu Thai government in 2014, would stay in power, although that outcome was not certain.

"There are irregularities in this election that we're not comfortable with. These affect the nation's credibility and people's trust," said Ms Sudarat Keyuraphan, candidate for prime minister of the Pheu Thai Party.

"We've voiced our concerns before for vote-buying, abuse of power, and cheating. All three have manifested. We will fight back through legal means," she told a news conference.

Mr Thaksin said yesterday that the ruling military junta "manipulated" the results.

"I knew that the junta running Thailand wanted to stay in power, but I cannot believe how far it has gone to manipulate the general election on Sunday," Mr Thaksin wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times.

The lower house and the upper house Senate, whose 250 members are appointed by the junta, will together select the next prime minister based on the support of a simple majority of 376 lawmakers.

That means Mr Prayuth's party and allies have to win 126 seats in the lower house to vote him in as prime minister, while Pheu Thai and its potential "democratic front" partners would need 376 to choose the next premier.

The House of Representatives, the lower house, has a total of 500 seats, and yesterday the Election Commission posted the winners of the 350 seats that were contested on a first-past-the post basis.

The as yet unofficial results showed Pheu Thai leading with 137 seats to 96 seats for Mr Prayuth's party.

However, official results for the lower house's remaining 150 "party seats", which will be allocated by a complex formula involving voter turnout, will not be announced until May 9.

Future Forward, a new party that appears to have made a spectacular election debut, winning 30 of the 350 constituency seats thanks to its appeal among young voters, also questioned the poll numbers. - REUTERS