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December 8, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Thai opposition looks set to form new government

Thailand's main opposition party called Sunday for an emergency parliament session to prove its majority in a bid to form the next government and end months of political chaos, as loyalists of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra struggled to stay in power, reported the Associated Press.

A new administration should bring some semblance of stability to this Southeast Asian nation, which has been gripped by political uncertainty since August when protesters - driven by a single-minded hatred for Thaksin and his allies - seized the prime minister's office and later overran the capital's two airports in a bid to topple government.

The opposition Democrat Party said it will ask the speaker of Parliament on Monday to call an extraordinary session of the lower house so that it can prove it has a majority. Both Thaksin's allies and the opposition say they have enough support to form a government.

"If the Democrat Party forms the government, I will try to boost confidence and revive the tourism industry and the image of the country," said 44-year-old party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former economics lecturer who will become the next prime minister if his party comes to power.

Thailand's political parties are seeking to fill a power vacuum created after a court last week dissolved the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party and two other parties in the ruling coalition for electoral fraud. The court also banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and 24 other lawmakers from politics for five years.

PPP members regrouped in the new Phuea Thai (For Thais) Party, but have seen some of their coalition partners defecting to the Democrat Party or its coalition.


The Phuea Thai Party appeared increasingly isolated in its loyalty to Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who was thrown out of power by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption. He fled the country in July, and three months later was sentenced to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law.

He now lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates but maintains a heavy influence on Thai politics and is still supported by many in the impoverished countryside.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, the protest movement that accused the government of being a Thaksin puppet, forced Thailand's main international airport to shut down for a week starting Nov. 25, plunging the country into one of its worst crises ever.

More than 300,000 travelers were stranded by the airport blockade, dealing a heavy blow to the country's tourism-dependent economy.

Thailand's Parliament has 480 seats but 39 are vacant, leaving 441 to be divided between the two sides. One coalition must have at least 221 seats to establish a majority and form a government.

Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban said his party and its new coalition partners, including defectors from the Thaksin camp, have 260 seats. Surapong Tovichakchaikul, a Phuea Thai lawmaker countered that his party could muster a coalition of at least 226 lawmakers.

The contradictory claims by the two parties indicated that one or both of them was exaggerating its strength - or that some lawmakers had promised support to both sides and were biding their time to see which side emerged the strongest.

Thaksin loyalists "can believe in whatever number they want to believe in but as far as I know" they can't form the government, said Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks.

The Phuea Thai Party's desperation to keep power was clear.

In a last ditch effort to woo back the defectors, Phuea Thai's new leader, Yongyuth Wichaidit, said Sunday he was willing to give the prime minister's job to one of them.

"Phuea Thai does not want the prime minister's post. The people from the coalition parties will work together and say who will be the prime minister," Yongyuth told reporters.

Abhisit, the Oxford-educated Democrat leader, invited more lawmakers "who share the same values to work together and extricate the country from this crisis" to join his party.

British-born Abhisit is an articulate, sophisticated politician but critics say he is out of touch with ordinary people, particularly the rural majority, and lacks charisma. His party's supporters include Bangkok's middle class, influential military figures and foreign investors who see him as a stabilizing force.

Although Thaksin also is a member of the wealthy elite, he is popular among the rural masses because of his populist policies.

The political wrangling comes amid fears for the health of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who stayed away from his 81st birthday celebrations on Friday because of sudden ill health.

A statement by the Royal Household Bureau said he was recovering fast. "The (king's) overall condition is better and his fever is subsided," it said.



Thailand Political Stalemate:
Thai opposition looks set to form new government
Thailand's main opposition party called Sunday for an emergency parliament session to prove its majority in a bid to form the next government and end months of political chaos, as loyalists of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra struggled to stay in power, reported the Associated Press.

A new administration should bring some semblance of stability to this Southeast Asian nation, which has been gripped by political uncertainty since August when protesters - driven by a single-minded hatred for Thaksin and his allies - seized the prime minister's office and later overran the capital's two airports in a bid to topple government.

The opposition Democrat Party said it will ask the speaker of Parliament on Monday to call an extraordinary session of the lower house so that it can prove it has a majority. Both Thaksin's allies and the opposition say they have enough support to form a government.

"If the Democrat Party forms the government, I will try to boost confidence and revive the tourism industry and the image of the country," said 44-year-old party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former economics lecturer who will become the next prime minister if his party comes to power.

Thailand's political parties are seeking to fill a power vacuum created after a court last week dissolved the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party and two other parties in the ruling coalition for electoral fraud. The court also banned Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and 24 other lawmakers from politics for five years.

PPP members regrouped in the new Phuea Thai (For Thais) Party, but have seen some of their coalition partners defecting to the Democrat Party or its coalition.

The Phuea Thai Party appeared increasingly isolated in its loyalty to Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who was thrown out of power by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption. He fled the country in July, and three months later was sentenced to two years in prison for violating a conflict of interest law.

He now lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates but maintains a heavy influence on Thai politics and is still supported by many in the impoverished countryside.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, the protest movement that accused the government of being a Thaksin puppet, forced Thailand's main international airport to shut down for a week starting Nov. 25, plunging the country into one of its worst crises ever.

More than 300,000 travelers were stranded by the airport blockade, dealing a heavy blow to the country's tourism-dependent economy.

Thailand's Parliament has 480 seats but 39 are vacant, leaving 441 to be divided between the two sides. One coalition must have at least 221 seats to establish a majority and form a government.

Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban said his party and its new coalition partners, including defectors from the Thaksin camp, have 260 seats. Surapong Tovichakchaikul, a Phuea Thai lawmaker countered that his party could muster a coalition of at least 226 lawmakers.

The contradictory claims by the two parties indicated that one or both of them was exaggerating its strength - or that some lawmakers had promised support to both sides and were biding their time to see which side emerged the strongest.

Thaksin loyalists "can believe in whatever number they want to believe in but as far as I know" they can't form the government, said Democrat Party spokesman Buranaj Smutharaks.

The Phuea Thai Party's desperation to keep power was clear.

In a last ditch effort to woo back the defectors, Phuea Thai's new leader, Yongyuth Wichaidit, said Sunday he was willing to give the prime minister's job to one of them.

"Phuea Thai does not want the prime minister's post. The people from the coalition parties will work together and say who will be the prime minister," Yongyuth told reporters.

Abhisit, the Oxford-educated Democrat leader, invited more lawmakers "who share the same values to work together and extricate the country from this crisis" to join his party.

British-born Abhisit is an articulate, sophisticated politician but critics say he is out of touch with ordinary people, particularly the rural majority, and lacks charisma. His party's supporters include Bangkok's middle class, influential military figures and foreign investors who see him as a stabilizing force.

Although Thaksin also is a member of the wealthy elite, he is popular among the rural masses because of his populist policies.

The political wrangling comes amid fears for the health of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who stayed away from his 81st birthday celebrations on Friday because of sudden ill health.

A statement by the Royal Household Bureau said he was recovering fast. "The (king's) overall condition is better and his fever is subsided," it said.

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