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Thai leader claims victory

But prime minister says he will step down if asked

From Ram Ramgopal
CNN Correspondent

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Thaksin is mobbed by reporters after arriving at his Thai Love Thai party headquarters.

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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's prime minister has claimed victory in the weekend's snap election, saying his party got more than 50 percent of the overall vote.

While final results are not yet in, returns so far show Thaksin Shinawatra's party got 16 million votes, 57 percent of the votes cast in an election boycotted by the opposition over corruption claims.

Before the election, he promised to leave his post if his party received less than 50 percent of the vote.

Thaksin had called the election three years early, as demonstrators filled streets demanding his ouster.

His Thai Rak Thai party was the only major one participating in the vote, as three opposition parties launched a boycott, hoping to make it impossible to fill all 500 parliamentary seats.

All the seats must be filled for a new government to be formed.

Opposition efforts appear to have worked. In at least 38 districts, the party could not muster the required minimum of 20 percent of ballots cast. Many people voted "no" -- particularly in affluent areas, including Bangkok's oldest business district.

Appearing Monday on a national TV talk program, Thaksin offered to set up a committee that would recommend what should happen next. He said he would step down if the opposition stopped its protests and accepted another leader from his party.

"Tell me, if or when I step aside, are all of you going to stop and return to what you normally do? No more protests. I have retreated. My back is against the wall," he said.

At least one leading opponent swiftly rejected the offer.

Some are calling the election a "Pyrrhic victory" for Thaksin because it could ultimately lead to his defeat.

Outside the prime minister's office in Bangkok, a tent city provides food and shelter for the "anti-Thaksin" movement. Participants include Buddhist monks. One leader is Chamlong Srimuang, the man who brought Thaksin into politics.

Opponents of the billionaire leader have accused him of abusing the country's system of checks and balances and bending government policy to benefit his family's business.

Anti-government protests grew when his family announced it had sold its controlling stake in telecom company Shin Corp. to Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings for a tax-free $1.9 billion.

During the elections Sunday, bombs exploded at three polling stations in Thailand's troubled southern region, wounding two policemen and four soldiers in Narathiwat, one of three Muslim-majority provinces plagued by a separatist insurgency.

More than 1,200 people have died in the insurgency in clashes and revenge killings.

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