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BANGKOK: The Thai opposition Puea Thai party, backed by the exiled politician Thaksin Shinawatra, has won a large majority in a landslide election result.

The Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, conceded defeat late last night, saying Puea Thai will be able to form government.

The political novice Yingluck Shinawatra, 44, a younger sister of Mr Thaksin who was put forward to lead the opposition party, thanked voters while claiming victory after Mr Abhisit’s concession.

Speaking in a nervous voice, Ms Yingluck invited minor parties to join her in forming a government and promised to fulfil promises made during the election campaign.

The election is the first since a bloody crackdown against opposition activists in May last year killed 91 people.

One poll, by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, had the opposition winning 313 of 500 seats, while the Democrat party of Mr Abhisit would win 152 seats. A government exit poll had Puea Thai winning 280 seats, enough to form government.

Before the election, Red Shirt supporters, many of whom had occupied central Bangkok in April and May last year until they were violently expelled by the army, were confident that Ms Yingluck would become Thailand’s first female prime minister after Puea Thai vaulted ahead in polling.

The businesswoman is a younger sister of Mr Thaksin, a deeply divisive figure at the centre of the election who is living in self-imposed exile in Dubai.

Speaking from Dubai last night, he said the exit polls were indicating a victory margin bigger than he had expected.

Mr Thaksin, 61, is a telecoms tycoon who has been sentenced to two years’ jail for corruption.

He is expected to be pardoned in an amnesty and return to Thailand to take a central behind-the-scenes role for Puea Thai, which has strong support among the rural and urban poor. Mr Abhisit’s Democrats represent the old-money government and business elite who despise Mr Thaksin, who has been behind every election victory in the past decade.

Mr Abhisit said during the campaign the election would be ”the best opportunity to remove the poison of Thaksin from Thailand”.

During her campaign Ms Yingluck often described Mr Thaksin as her ”clone” and campaigned on the slogan: ”Thaksin thinks and Puea Thai does”.

Her slick, well-funded campaign promised to focus on uniting the country after six years of political turbulence.

More than 180,000 police guarded 90,000 polling centres as 35 million voters cast their ballots to fill 500 seats in parliament.

Puea Thai (For Thais) needed 260 or 270 seats to form government in its own right as ministers do not get a vote in parliament.

There is a danger the losing side will not accept the result, plunging the country back into violent turmoil, analysts have warned. Puea Thai’s expected landslide will test the army’s willingness to let the party govern five years after Mr Thaksin was ousted.

On the eve of the election the army chief, Prayuth Chan-ocha, dismissed rumours of a coup if Puea Thai won and asserted the military would remain neutral.

”Any government coming up has the right to take office,” he said. ”I have no problem accepting whatever comes.”

There have been unconfirmed reports the Thaksin camp and the military have been discussing some kind of accommodation.

The army removed Mr Thaksin from power in a 2006 coup.

Voters queued nervously at polling centres in Bangkok after a largely peaceful campaign where the rival parties made strikingly similar policies.

The main parties made extravagant promises such as sharply lifting the minimum wage, pensions for the elderly, computers for children, subsidies for rice, debt moratoriums and cash handouts the central bank said the economy could not afford.

Adding to tensions was the health of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, who has been in and out of hospital for much of the past two years.

”We have lost our way and we are trying to find our way back,” Pichai Chuensuksawadi, editor-in-chief of The Bangkok Post, told The New York Times. ”Whoever comes in now must play a key role in keeping things calm.”

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