BANGKOK, Thailand — The sister of Thailand's fugitive former prime minister led his loyalists to a landslide election victory Sunday, a stunning rout of the military-backed government that last year crushed protests by his supporters with a bloody crackdown that left the capital in flames.
The results pave the way for Thaksin Shinawatra's youngest sister, widely considered his proxy, to become the nation's first female prime minister — if the coup-prone Thai army accepts the results.
The Southeast Asian kingdom has been racked by upheaval since 2006, when Thaksin was toppled in a military coup amid accusations of corruption and a rising popularity that some saw as a threat to the much-revered monarchy. Thaksin was barred from politics in 2007 and convicted on graft charges the next year.
The coup touched off a schism between the country's haves and long-silent have-nots — pitting the marginalized rural poor who hailed Thaksin's populism against an elite establishment bent on defending the status quo that sees him as a corrupt autocrat.
On Sunday, Thaksin's Pheu Thai party was led to an overwhelming victory by his 44-year-old sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, a U.S.-educated businesswoman handpicked by her billionaire brother. He has called her his "clone."
From exile in the desert emirate of Dubai, Thaksin hailed the outcome. "People are tired of a standstill," he said. "They want to see change in a peaceful manner."
At her party headquarters, Yingluck told an electrified crowd of supporters: "I don't want to say that Pheu Thai wins today. It's a victory of the people."
With 98 percent of the vote counted, preliminary results from the Election Commission showed the Pheu Thai party far ahead with 264 of 500 parliament seats, well over the majority needed to form a government. The Democrat party of army-backed incumbent Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had 160 seats.