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Thailand election traces red shirt, yellow shirt fault line

Sunday's by-election in Thailand offer a window on the continuing divide, and hints at the enduring strength of the red shirt opposition.

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An election official sits at a polling station in Bangkok July 25. The by-election, held under the state of emergency, pits a detained 'red shirt' protest leader against a pro-government candidate and is closely watched in the politically divided country.

Sukree Sukplang/Reuters

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Two months after security forces put down violent street protests, a by-election held Sunday in Thailand offered a small window into public opinion in a divided nation.

The result – an incumbent victory over a robust red-shirt opposition challenge – suggests that these political divisions persist and will resist any easy fix. It also points to the resilience of the red shirts, the rural-based protest movement that emerged with the backing of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after a military coup in 2006.

Sunday’s vote was held under a state of emergency imposed in April that suspends a broad range of civil and political rights. Some government backers have begun to criticize the prolonged emergency as counterproductive to the goal of national reconciliation and social inclusion. Army commanders have defended their powers as necessary to maintain order.

Adding to the uncertainty, a bomb exploded after the polls closed in Bangkok's city center, killing one person and injuring several others. The attack was staged in an area that the red shirts occupied in April and turned into a barricaded camp. The incident is the first deadly incident in Bangkok since the May 19th army-led crackdown.

Sunday’s by-election pitted a former deputy mayor, Panich Vikitsareth against a detained red-shirt leader who ran his campaign from jail. Unofficial results gave Mr. Panich over 96,000 votes out of 192,000 cast, while Korkaew Pikulthong, the candidate for the opposition Pua Thai party, received less than 82,000 votes, yielding an eight percent margin of victory.

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