Thai ex-PM Abhisit re-elected as opposition party chief
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Thai ex-PM Abhisit re-elected as opposition party chief

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party re-elected former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva as its leader Tuesday ahead of a crucial decision over whether to boycott upcoming elections.

Abhisit, who ran unopposed in the party election and received 98 percent of the vote, was charged with murder last week in connection with the deaths of two people during a 2010 crackdown on anti-government protesters while he was prime minister. A total of 91 people died in the protests. His case comes to trial in March.

The Democrats must decide soon whether to participate in the Feb. 2 polls called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They have not won an election in decades, and have allied themselves with a protest movement that is demanding that Yingluck resign before any polls to make way for an appointed government to institute reforms. Yingluck’s government says it is compelled by law to serve in a caretaker position until the elections are held.

Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament last week to try to end the crisis caused by the protesters, who have drawn as many as 150,000-200,000 people to their biggest rallies and have forced their way into government installations, temporarily occupying them. Although there have been several pitched street battles, the government has been relatively restrained in its response and even surrendered some premises to avoid violence from spinning out of control.

Tuesday was peaceful, with both sides in recent days shifting their efforts to trying to win over public opinion with a series of public and private forums where they have explained their positions and sought to bring over to their side businessmen and the military.

Thailand has been wracked by sometimes violent political conflict since Yingluck’s billionaire brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was toppled by a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. The protesters say that Thai politics are hopelessly corrupt under Thaksin’s continuing influence, and that he buys his electoral support from the country’s urban and rural poor.

Thaksin’s supporters say he is disliked by Bangkok’s elite because he has shifted power away from the traditional ruling class.