BANGKOK - Exit polls have shown the People Power Party (PPP), a party closely related to the coup-ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, is winning Sunday's general election, which is considered the key step to bring the country back to political normalcy in Thailand, as the voting closed at 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) Sunday.
The poll by the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University, one of the two leading survey institutions recognized by the Election Commission to conduct the exit polls for Sunday's election, showed the PPP got 256 seats, a majority in the 480-member House of Representatives.
Among the 256 seats, 221 come from the constituency-based MP election, while the rest 35 from the party-list MP election.
The PPP's major rival in the race, the Democrat Party, followed with 162 seats, 127 for constituency MP seats and 35 for party- list, the Suan Dusit exit poll showed.
Another poll by the ABAC Poll Research Center also indicated similar outcome by showing the PPP on top with 202 seats, while the Democrat is expected to get 146 seats.
Democrat Party Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said he would rather wait for the official results to voice his comment.
He earlier said he would respect the result, no matter what outcome it shows.
The Election Commission is expected to announce initial tallying results at around 9 p.m. (1400 GMT).
The PPP did not make haste to declare victory, but Surapong Suebwonglee, PPP's secretary general, said the party's expectation of winning 220 to 250 MP seats was similar to what the exit polls have shown.
PPP executives have said the party may consider inviting two or three other parties to join it in forming a coalition government with at least 300 parliament seats.
The Party Leader, Samak Sundaravej, said he was happy with the exit polls results and that he would hold a press conference at 8 p.m. (0100 GMT), by when he believed the initial rallying results will come out.
Both Party leaders has contested as party-list MP candidate in Bangkok and were seen as the leading runners in the race to become Thailand's next prime minister.
In the exit polls, other major parties in the contest, such as Chart Thai Party (Thai Nation Party), Ruamjai Thai Chart Pattana Party (Thais United National Development Party), and Pua Paendin Party (For the Motherland Party) are legging far behind the two leading parties.
The exit polls results on Sunday have echoed earlier forecasts in various pre-election opinion polls, which all saw the PPP leading the race.
Over 70 percent of 45 million eligible voters in Thailand are expected to participate in the election, which kicked off at 8 a.m. (0100 GMT) Sunday at 88,500 polling stations throughout Thailand, to elect 480 members at Thailand's House of Representatives ((or often referred as Parliament).
The party or the coalition of parties winning a majority of seats at the House will be empowered to form a new government, with the winning party or parties electing a prime minister, who must be an elected MP, to lead the cabinet.
In the voting system revised under the new Constitution 2007, voters have to mark on two separate ballot papers to elect the 480 parliament members.
The 400 parliament members will be elected directly by voters in 157 designated Constituencies in the country, while the other 80 party-list MP seats will be taken by party candidates based on the proportion of votes their own party receives in each of eight designated Zones, each comprising a group of provinces and with 10 party-list MP seats for grabs.
A record high number of over 2.9 million voters have cast their ballots in the advance and absentee voting during December 15 and December 16. The advance ballots will be tallied along with those cast on Sunday.
The election has received great attention both in Thailand and from the international community, as it is the first general election 15 months after the military launched a bloodless coup to oust elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and has carried with it the hopes of many Thai people to restore political normalcy to the country.
No comment on the exit poll results have been voiced so far from the military top brass or the interim government led by prime minister Surayud Chulanont.