Thaksin Shinawatra appeared to acknowledge that the election he called three years early had failed to resolve months of political turmoil, saying he was open to all options.
"If the media give me an option that could reconcile all sides, I don't necessarily need to be the prime minister," he said on Monday. "But this doesn't mean that I will continue to be or I won't be the prime minister."
An opposition boycott of Sunday's poll, billed by Thaksin as a referendum on his leadership, had already guaranteed constitutional chaos because of the inevitability of empty seats in parliament, which must be full for a government to be formed.
Tallies trickled out of the Election Commission more slowly than in a general election in February 2005, but results for Bangkok showed that while Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won all 36 seats, it was beaten by the "no vote" by 50.1% to 45.9%.
A year ago, TRT won 32 constituencies in the capital, now the centre of the street campaign against him.
Thaksin expects to get support
from his rural strongholds
Thaksin, who promised to resign if the "no vote" count outnumbered TRT votes nationwide, expected to pick up support as results came in from his rural strongholds in the north and northeast.
"I believe my supporting votes will be more than half although in the past there was no prime minister who would have more than half of the votes," he said.
However, some analysts said it might be a close-run thing.
In the Muslim-majority far south, where Thaksin is blamed for a resurgence of separatist unrest, election officials had to suspend counting in one constituency after the "no vote" tally filled up all the space on their counting forms.
Anwar Salae, the outgoing Pattani MP of the opposition Democrats, who led the boycott, said: "I'm pretty confident that people here will not chose Thaksin. He has never been interested in their problems and the people are very aware of that."
Nearly 70% of the 399 seats at stake across the country were uncontested and some will be left empty as TRT candidates struggle to win the minimum 20% of eligible votes needed to secure victory in unopposed seats.
"I'm pretty confident that people here will not chose Thaksin. He has never been interested in their problems and the people are very aware of that"
Anwar Salae, outgoing Pattani MP of the opposition Democrats
The early "no vote" trend prompted speculation that Thaksin would hand over to a deputy to defuse political tension, manage political reform, and then make a comeback.
He responded: "Haven't thought about that."
Final results were expected only late on Monday. The Election Commission reported slow counting in the north, where Thaksin, a billionaire widely accused of corruption and abuse of power, draws his main support due mainly to the provision of cheap healthcare and credit to farmers.