Thaksin loyalists desperate to stay in power
By VIJAY JOSHI,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, December 8
BANGKOK, Thailand - Loyalists of exiled former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tried desperately to remain in power Sunday, even offering the prime minister's job to smaller parties that have abandoned their coalition and joined the opposition.
The offer came a day after the opposition Democrat Party announced that it is ready to form the next government after mustering the support of about 250 lawmakers in the 480-member lower house of Parliament. It said enough members from the pro-Thaksin coalition have defected to give the Democrats the required number.
"The number of lawmakers that the Democrats have is 250ish," said Buranaj Smutharaks, a Democrat Party spokesman. Thaksin loyalists can't form the new government "as far as I know," he said.
The jockeying for power has suddenly shaken Thailand out of a political paralysis which set in when the People's Alliance for Democracy, an anti-Thaksin activist group, occupied the prime minister's office six months ago. Its campaign culminated in its shutdown of the country's main international airport on Nov. 25.
Thaksin, who was ousted by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, remains at the center of the country's political turmoil. He fled the country in July and is living in the United Arab Emirates, but continues to have a heavy influence on politics and is still supported by many in the impoverished countryside.
More than 300,000 travelers were stranded by the weeklong airport shutdown, which dealt a heavy blow to the country's tourism-dependent economy.
The airport siege ended Wednesday, a day after the government _ made up of the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party and its five coalition partners _ was toppled by a court order for election fraud. The People's Power Party and two others were abolished and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat was banned from politics for five years.
But many members of the People's Power Party regrouped in the new Phuea Thai Party, while some of its coalition partners joined the Democrats.
In an apparent bid to woo back the defectors, Phuea Thai's newly elected leader, Yongyuth Wichaidit, said Sunday he is 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.
The political wrangling will not be resolved until Parliament meets within the next 30 days to form a new government, to be led by whichever group controls a majority of the seats. No date has been set for the session.
If the Democrat Party holds the majority, its Oxford-educated leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 44, is expected to become the new prime minister.
On Sunday, he invited more lawmakers "who share the same values to work together and extricate the country from this crisis" to join the Democrats.
"If the Democrat Party forms the government, I will try to boost the confidence and revive the tourism industry and the image of the country," he said.
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 from the elite rich class, he is popular among the rural masses because of his populist policies, reflecting the deep divide between the urban elite and the country's poor.
Sombat Chanthonwong, a political science professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said many would find it difficult to accept Abhisit _ a former Bangkok governor _ as the new prime minister because he is not an elected lawmaker.
"How can we have a prime minister who doesn't come from a democratic process? I don't get it," he said.
Associated Press writer Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.
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