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Thai king dissolves parliament

Thailand's king has approved a decree dissolving the lower house of Parliament and setting general elections for July 3, the government spokesman said Monday.

Sets the stage for general elections July 3

Thailand's king has approved a decree dissolving the lower house of Parliament and setting general elections for July 3, the government spokesman said Monday.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva walks on the hallway of the Government House in Bangkok on Monday after 's King Bhumibol Adulyadej dissolved the lower house of parliament,setting a general election for July 3. (Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press)
The approval by King Bhumibol Adulyadej sets in motion a new political battle between supporters of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and followers of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a military coup in 2006.

Thaksin's removal ushered in a period of instability for Thailand, with both sides taking to the streets to support their cause. Thaksin's opponents in 2008 occupied the prime minister's offices for three months and Bangkok's two airports for a week.

Thaksin's supporters, the "Red Shirts," held two months of anti-government demonstrations in the Thai capital last year that deteriorated into violence, leaving 91people dead and 1,400 wounded. They had demanded that Abhisit call early elections.

Abhisit's government's term does not expire until the end of the year, but he is hoping that a relatively buoyant economy -- and recently passed spending measures that should please voters -- will make this a propitious time for polls.

Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said the house dissolution is effective Tuesday. Abhisit was expected to appear on state TV Monday night to talk about his action, which he had promised several months ago.

The dissolution was announced after a court ruled earlier Monday that three recently passed electoral laws needed for holding the polls are constitutional. If Parliament had been dissolved without the ruling, the elections could have been open to legal challenges.

Thaksin -- now in self-imposed exile overseas -- was ousted after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king. His return to any position of influence is opposed by members of the army and others in positions of power. Critics of the military fear it might stage a pre-emptive coup.

The elections are expected to be fiercely contested between Abhisit's ruling Democrat Party and the main opposition Puea Thai Party associated with Thaksin.

Polls suggest that Puea Thai will win the most seats, but probably not a majority. If so, the balance of power will lie with smaller parties whose allegiances are often won by the number of Cabinet seats they are offered in a coalition government.

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