Thailand begins search for new PM
Bangkok, September 13, 2008
Key officials in Thailand's ruling coalition huddled behind closed doors on Saturday to agree a replacement for Samak Sundaravej, who withdrew his bid for a new term as prime minister in face of an internal party revolt.
Samak's People Power Party (PPP), the biggest in the six-member coalition, vowed to nominate one of its own for the premiership, resuming a collision course with anti-government protesters who pledge to oppose any PPP candidate.
"Will the next prime minister come from the PPP? Absolutely. Absolutely. We will propose someone that everyone can accept and the coalition can accept," chief party spokesman Kudeb Saikrachang told Reuters.
He said the top three candidates were acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Finance Minister and PPP Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee, and Justice Minister Sompong Amornwiwat.
The Constitutional Court sacked Samak on Tuesday, finding him guilty of conflict of interest for hosting television cooking shows for a commercial broadcaster while in office.
While the ruling removed Samak, it did not ban him from making a comeback which he had planned to do in a parliamentary vote on Friday. But the vote was postponed to Wednesday after a faction of 70 PPP lawmakers refused to back Samak, fearing his renomination would only escalate political tensions.
However, Samak's departure failed to appease the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has occupied the prime minister's official compound in Bangkok for more than two weeks.
The PAD, a group of royalist businessmen, academics and activists, have vowed to continue their occupation of Government House if a PPP candidate was nominated for prime minister.
"We would accept anyone as prime minister, as long as he is not from the PPP," said Suriyasai Katasila, a PAD spokesman.
His movement accused Samak of being a puppet of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a 2006 coup and now living in exile in London. Some PPP lawmakers have suggested the nearly eight-month-old government dissolve parliament and call a snap election, but there is no sign that this is under serious consideration.
The stock market has fallen around 25 percent since the PAD launched its anti-Samak street campaign in May, triggering policy paralysis at a time of slowing economic growth and decade-high inflation.
Tensions peaked on September 2 when Samak imposed emergency rule in Bangkok after violent clashes between pro- and anti-government groups. But the army refused to use force to clear the PAD from Government House.
The situation has become much calmer, but Thailand is no closer to resolving the fundamental conflict between the rural and urban poor who supported Thaksin, and Bangkok's middle and upper classes who despise him. - Reuters