Thai opposition may take power, army's aid hinted
By VIJAY JOSHI,Associated Press Writer AP - 30 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's main opposition party called for an emergency parliament session Monday to prove its majority and form the next government _ a surprising reversal of fortunes that some suggested was engineered by the politically potent military.
Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thuagsuban filed a formal request for convening Parliament to demonstrate it has the support of enough legislators to form the next government and end months of political paralysis.
This Southeast Asian nation has been gripped by political chaos for three months, with protesters seizing the prime minister's office and overrunning the capital's two airports for about a week in a bid to topple the government, accusing it of being a proxy of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
House Speaker Chai Chidchob must seek the constitutional monarch's approval to convene an emergency session of the house, but that's considered a formality.
"The Democrat Party is ready to govern. We will do our best to gear the country out of a crisis," said Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 44, an Oxford-educated economist. "We will boost the confidence of foreign investors and tourists."
Ahisit denied the army was involved in his party's sudden boost. "Everything is done and must be done through the parliamentary process," he said.
The country's No. 2 party until a week ago, the Democrat Party's newfound strength comes from defections by one-time allies of Thaksin after the collapse of the ruling coalition last week.
The government lost power after the Constitutional Court disbanded Thaksin's People's Power Party and two other partners in the ruling coalition after finding them guilty of electoral fraud.
The People's Power Party was reborn as the Pheu Thai Party, but it watched helplessly as many of its coalition partners joined a Democrat Party-led coalition in a shocking turn of events that some described as a political coup.
The Democrat Party now claims the support of 260 lawmakers, including 166 of its members and the rest from defectors, in the 480-member House of Representatives. Because of vacancies the house currently has 438 members.
Local media speculated that the defections were encouraged by the military, which has traditionally played a key role in politics.
"People in uniforms were pressuring political factions to join the Democrat-led government," said Jatuporn Phromphan, a Thaksin ally and a lawmaker.
"It has been their plan all along. They usurped power through the court ruling last week and now they are lobbying lawmakers to join the Democrat. It is undemocratic," he said in a telephone interview.
There are also fears that Thaksin supporters would take to the streets, triggering another round of social unrest.
Thai army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd denied the allegation, saying that the army was not involved in politics.
However, the military's hand in Thai politics is undeniable. It has mounted 18 successful coups in the past, the latest in 2006 when it booted out Thaksin amid allegations of corruption.
Thaksin fled the country in July and was sentenced to two years in jail in October for violating a conflict of interest law. He now lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates.
The weeklong airport siege that ended last Wednesday left more than 300,000 foreign travelers stranded and dealt a crippling blow to the economy and the crucial tourism industry.
The crisis has considerably whittled away the political power of Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who is still supported by many in the impoverished countryside because of his populist policies while in power from 2001 to 2006.
But his autocratic leanings and alleged corruption drew the loathing of the Bangkok elite, the military and people associated with the monarchy.
The dislike for Thaksin crystalized in the creation of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which carried out the anti-Thaksin campaign including the airport seizures.
The alliance backs the Democrat Party and Abhisit, even though critics say the British-born politician is out of touch with ordinary people, particularly the rural majority, and lacks in charisma.
Associated Press writer Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.
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