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House meeting fails to find a way out

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September 1, 2008

Thailand political standoff:
House meeting fails to find a way out

Embattled Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej found himself having to fend off calls to step down or call new elections at a special joint session of Parliament he called on Sunday as the crisis deepened, with anti-government protesters threatening to shut down more airports and roads in the country, reports from the Associated Press and other agencies said.

The emergency meeting, attended by MPs from the lower and upper houses, started at 13:30pm local time and ended 11 hours later, with lawmakers one after another either lambasting or defending the prime minster, while more than 1,000 government supporters staged a counter rally in front of Parliament.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, proposed that Samak dissolve Parliament and call new elections.

"Dissolving Parliament is a way for the government to show responsibility. If you don't want to take the responsibility on your own (by resigning), take all of Parliament members with you (by dissolving it)," Abhisit said.

“I will not resign or dissolve Parliament. I will not be defeated by those protesters,” responded Samak, who received crucial backing Saturday from his ruling six-party coalition, which said it would not back calls for dissolving Parliament to call new elections. The coalition controls more than two-thirds of the seats in the 480-seat lower house.

The influential army commander, Gen. Anupong Paochinda, has vowed that the military will not stage a coup.

The group leading the protesters, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), has expressed little interest in the lawmakers' debate, but vowed to continue their protests until Samak resigns. They have been occupying the Government House compound since August 26.

The protest organisers accuse Samak's government of corruption and being a proxy for ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 bloodless military coup sparked by the alliance's protests. Thaksin recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges.

Samak has repeatedly said he will not bow to the demands of the PAD, the protest group that he dismisses as an illegal mob.

As the political deadlock seems to drag on, there have been speculations over possible scenarios, reported Reuters. However, none of those offers a solution to heal the apparent rift between anti- and pro- government camps.

The scenarios include Samak backtracking and dissolving parliament to call a snap election in the hope it will take the wind out of the PAD’s sails.

But, with Samak's People Power Party, a replacement for Thaksin's disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, almost certain to win and lead the next government, the PAD would be unlikely to give up its campaign.

Samak might declare a state of emergency to enlist the help of the military in clearing the tens of thousands of protesters from the seat of government. However, the military has reportedly disagreed with the idea.

With the second anniversary of the coup against Thaksin looming on September 19, army chief Anupong Paochinda has stressed that another putsch would resolve none of Thailand's underlying political problems.

However, if tensions escalate and people get hurt or killed, the army may feel justified in intervening, citing the need for national reconciliation, and forcing the government from power. It is far from clear what sort of government would emerge.

Samak might eventually cave in and step down along with his cabinet, paving the way for the opposition Democrat Party to cobble together a coalition government. If it fails, elections would ensue.

Some expect that the highly-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej might intervene as he did in several occasions during his six decades on the throne, particularly when the situation turned violent. And if he does this time, said Reuters, it would be unlikely be in favour the government, but for national harmony and stability.

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