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Thailand's Elections Marked by Voter Indifference

For many former student radicals, accommodation is a pattern during the country's economic boom years - a letter from Bangkok

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PROUDLY, Weng Tojirakarn recalls the massive student protests of his youth and his six years as a political fugitive in Thai jungles.

Today, politics takes a back seat to the more compelling demands of family, his medical practice, and a computer assembly company run by his wife, Tida, also a former jungle activist.

"This is not a real democracy," Dr. Weng says wistfully, remembering his part in the student tumult of the 1970s, which set the stage for the military ouster of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. "But at least it's better than a dictatorship."

In the aftermath of Sunday's election, which was marked by voter indifference and big-money politics, Thailand seems poised for yet another government dominated by the military.

With three parties either created or courted by the ruling military junta capturing a narrow parliamentary majority, armed forces chief Suchinda Kraprayoon is the controversial front-runner to become prime minister, Thai and Western analysts say.

Still, the general who plotted last year's military takeover faces a restive opposition because he is unelected. That, along with bitter factionalism within the armed forces, means the new government will be short-lived, observers say.

"The Thai people have yet to show they can accept the responsibilities of democracy," says the popular outgoing Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, himself a government caretaker appointed last year by the junta.

Senee Tawonsath agrees. Not unlike America's Vietnam war protesters who became more career-minded in the 1980s, many former student radicals in Thailand are now part of the country's booming economic mainstream.


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