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Beneath Thailand's tumult, a rural-urban fault line

Lawmakers are to pick a new prime minister Monday – the third in four months, reflecting the country's polarized politics.

Balance: Salon boss Thanakit Somwong, of Bangkok, says he tries not to talk politics with clients because it's too divisive.

Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor

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As lawmakers here prepare to pick Thailand's third prime minister in four months, the polarized country appears to have stepped back from the brink of all-out political violence.

Tempers have cooled since a court ordered the dissolution of three political parties in the ruling coalition on Dec. 2. As a result, antigovernment protesters ended a week-long occupation of Bangkok's two airports that wrecked the country's tourism industry.

Members of the disbanded ruling People's Power Party – who have regrouped into a new party, Puea Thai Party – are still attempting to cobble together the next government. But if the opposition Democrat Party secures the 220-vote majority needed to form its own ruling coalition, as it claims it can in Monday's parliamentary vote, that could offer further respite.

Still, even as street protests have simmered down, the continuing political battle underscores the deep fault line that exists here between town and country.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, the royalist group behind the airport seizure late last month, draws its supporters from Bangkok and southern Thailand. It aims to dismantle the electoral machine built by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during his tenure from 2001 to 2006 in the rural heartland of the north and curb the power of popularly elected officials. Wealthy PAD activists dismiss rural voters as simpletons who can't be trusted to choose a government.

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