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December 7, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Opposition party says ready to form new coalition govt

Thailand's opposition Democrat Party announced Saturday it will form a new coalition government tasked with bringing the country out of political crisis and restoring international confidence, reported Kyodo news agency.

At a press conference, Democratic Party Secretary General Suthep Thaugsuban claimed to have the necessary support of more than half of the lawmakers in the House of Representatives to elect Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Thailand's new premier.

Suthep was joined at the press conference by prominent figures from four parties that were until recently partners in the coalition government led by the now-defunct People Power Party, as well as a 37-member faction of the former PPP lawmakers.

"Today, we have to care for national interest much more than the interest of any political party, the nation's survival more than the survival of any individuals," the faction said in a statement explaining why its members decided not to follow other PPP members in moving into the newly established Puea Thai Party, which would be in the opposition if the Democrat-led coalition government materialises.

The 37 former PPP lawmakers will vote on individual basis for Abhisit, but they will decide later which party they should move into, according to Boonchong Wongtrairat, a faction member and lawmaker from northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima.

Suthep claimed to have over 260 lawmakers willing to vote for Abhisit. Currently, the House of Representatives has 438 active members, according to Pitoon Pumhiran, the house's secretary general.

The Constitution requires a new premier be voted into office by more than half of the existing lower house members.

Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the Puea Thai Party, other former PPP members told reporters they have not given up attempting to form a new coalition government with former coalition partners, offering even to let the smaller parties nominate the new prime minister.


Over 100 lawmakers from the PPP have signed up to join the Puea Thai Party, but some former PPP members had indicated they did not support the new party's candidates for the new premier, which had reportedly included Thaksin's younger sister Yinglak Shinawatra and their cousin Chaisit Shinawatra, a retired supreme commander.

Other lawmakers joining the Democrat-led coalition are members of the former Chart Thai Party, which was dissolved last month but reinvented itself as the Chart Thai Pattana Party, as well as members of the former Matchimathipataya Party, which was also dissolved, and the Puea Pandin and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana parties.

Representatives of five parties and one faction said they switched support to the Democratic Party, which was Thailand's second largest party after the PPP, because the country critically needs to get out of both political and economic crises and they believe it is the best solution for the nation.

They also expressed hope of mending the divisiveness that widely spread in recent months of dramatic protests organised by activists of the royalist People's Alliance for Democracy.

The PAD activists had seized both Government House and Bangkok's two main airports, calling for the downfall of the PPP-led coalition government which they accused of trying to amend the Constitution to pave the way for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cronies to return to power.

Suthep said that while the Pracharaj Party with its five lawmakers did not join the coalition, he would not give up trying to convince it to join.

The coalition members said they plan to submit a request on Monday to convene a parliamentary session to elect the new prime minister, but they did not specify a date.

Late Friday night, Potjaman Damapong, the ex-wife of fugitive Thaksin, returned to Bangkok in what most local newspapers Saturday speculated is part of a Thaksin-inspired attempt to prevent former PPP politicians from switching to the Democrat side.

But Thaksin's spokesman Phongthep Thepkanchana denied that Potjaman's return has anything to do with Thai politics, saying she came back to take care of her ailing mother.

Last month, Potjaman divorced Thaksin, officially ending their 32 years of marriage, only a week after Britain revoked their entry visa.

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