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Govt MPs vow to get Samak back into office

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Thailand Politics:
Court verdict may force PM Samak to resign
Govt MPs vow to get Samak back into office

Thailand's prime minister awaited a court verdict Tuesday on whether he will be forced out of office for hosting TV cooking shows - yet another twist in a deepening national political crisis, reported the Associated Press.

"Ready or not - I have to wait and see," Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej told reporters in the northeast town of Udon Thani, his party's stronghold where he was holding the Cabinet's weekly

He said he did not plan to appear before the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, but added, "I have no choice but to honor the court order."

Samak, a self-proclaimed foodie, hosted a popular television cooking show - "Tasting and Complaining" - for seven years before becoming prime minister.

But he also made several appearances after taking office, allegedly breaking a constitutional prohibition on private employment while in office.

In testimony to the court on Monday, Samak defended himself by saying he was not an employee of the company that made the show.

"I was hired to appear on the program and got paid from time to time.

I was not an employee of the company so I did not violate the law," said Samak. He said the television company paid only for his transportation and the ingredients used for cooking.

Sakchai Khaewwaneesakul, the managing director of the company that produced the show, said he paid the prime minister $560 per show for incidental expenses.

If found guilty of contravening the constitution, Samak would have to resign, an outcome that could allow him to exit without succumbing to pressure from protesters who have occupied the
grounds of his office complex since August 26, demanding he step down.

Thailand’s English-language Nation newspaper declared it "Samak's Judgment Day" in a banner headline Tuesday.

"Today, Samak looks to have hit a dead end on his political road," The Bangkok Post said.

But Samak's allies in the government's six-party ruling coalition said if Samak was forced to step down they would respond by nominating him again as their choice for prime minister.

Such a move would inflame anti-government protesters demanding his resignation. Also, it is not clear whether this would again violate the Constitution.

"We will not switch sides if the court rules to disqualify Prime Minister Samak," Communications Minister Mun Pattanothai, whose Puea Pandin party is a junior member of the coalition,

told reporters.

"The coalition parties will vote him back in since we believe Samak is the best choice for the time being."

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy - a loose-knit group of royalists, wealthy and middle-class urban residents, and union activists - accuse Samak of corruption and of serving as a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin was ousted in 2006 by a military coup after demonstrations denouncing him for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Samak has not been able to enter his office at Government House since the protesters stormed the compound August 26. Despite facing emergency rule in Bangkok, the protesters have refused to leave.

But even if Samak is acquitted his troubles are not over - the Election Commission has recommended that his party be dissolved for vote fraud, and he faces a defamation suit and three possible corruption cases.

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