Billionaire sweeps Thailand's election

Unofficial voting results indicate media tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra is set to become Thailand's next prime minister. But he could be disqualified, depending on the outcome of an investigation into corruption charges.

A commission is looking into complaints that Thaksin covered up information about his wealth when he was deputy prime minister in 1997.

But the scandal did not diminish voters' enthusiasm and support for Shinawatra and his slick campaign. He may even have secured the country's first ever absolute majority.

Exit polls on Sunday showed Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) party leading prime minister Chuan Leekpai and his Democrats by a huge margin.

The two parties were among dozens competing for 500 parliamentary seats.

"This is the toughest fight in my 32-year political career because I have to fight against the richest man in this country," Chuan, 62, said.

Chuan is a scandal-free leader, even nicknamed "Mr. Clean." But Thais considered him unexciting and he failed to boost the country's beaten economy.

Thais choose charismatic leader

On Saturday, Chuan conceded voters seemed to have chosen a change of government.

His rival Thaksin has promised to give the equivalent of $35,700 to each of Thailand's 70,000 villages and suspend farmers' interest payments for three years.

He has also promised the business community he will run the country like a successful company.

Thaksin is a former policeman who built a high-tech empire now worth billions of baht.

Voting was peaceful after a two-month campaign that saw 18 political murders.

New rules don't stop corruption

Final election results were not expected until Sunday. But tough new corruption rules could delay official results for weeks and even months.

An election commission, introduced under a reformed 1997 constitution, is trying to crack down on fraud and vote-buying. And it appears dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of winning candidates will be disqualified for cheating.

Thaksin may not hold on to the prime minister's job for long. He has been indicted for failing to declare his assets when he was a minister in the 1990s.

If the Constitutional Court upholds the charges against Thaksin, he will be barred from politics for five years and lose the job of leading this country of 62 million people.

That in turn could cause a constitutional crisis and an election that will take longer to sort out than the recent epic in the United States.