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VOTERS SAY NO TO POLLUTION AND EX-MAYOR

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The man once seen as the best hope for clean government in Thailand found himself in the political wilderness Monday.

Voters who turned out in record numbers Sunday rejected Cham-long Srimuang, instead picking anti-pollution activist Pichit Rattakul as the mayor of Bangkok.The 49-year-old Pichit, a bland but earnest former university professor and ex-member of parliament, ran as an independent.

Chamlong, the ascetic Buddhist founder of the Palang Dharma (Power of Virtue) Party, has won the mayor's post twice before and once inspired voters with his modesty and integrity.

But the 60-year-old ex-soldier, who eats once a day and forswears sex, had seen his standing erode since surrendering control of his party to a billionaire telecommunications magnate.

Rapid growth has brought sudden wealth, transforming Bangkok from a quiet city known for Venice-like canals edged by tropical greenery into one of the world's most polluted cities. Up to 500 new cars a day swarm already congested streets, producing horrendous traffic jams and air pollution levels 14 times higher than international standards.

Pichit's campaign promises included building a tram system over city canals, tackling mounting traffic and pollution problems, and improving garbage disposal, education and public health facilities.

A record 43.52 percent of Bangkok's 3.6 million eligible voters cast ballots, nearly double the turnout four years ago, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority.

The final tally showed Pichit capturing 768,994 of 1,578,061 votes cast, or 49 percent, to 514,401, or 33 percent, for the second-place Chamlong. Twenty-nine candidates ran in the election.

Chamlong, best known internationally for leading bloody pro-democracy protests in 1992 against a former army commander who tried to make himself prime minister, announced his retirement from politics following the loss.

He said he would work to help poor farmers in rural areas, though he has failed to fulfill similar pledges in the past.