Thai opposition looks set to form new government
By VIJAY JOSHI,Associated Press Writer AP - 30 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Thailand's main opposition party was seeking an emergency parliamentary session Monday to prove its majority in a bid to form the next government and end months of political chaos.
A new administration would 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 former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies _ seized the prime minister's office and later overran the capital's two airports in a bid to topple the government.
The opposition Democrat Party said Sunday it will ask the speaker of Parliament to call an extraordinary session of the lower house on Monday 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 Oxford-educted party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, 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 waiting to see which side emerged the strongest.
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.
British-born Abhisit, 44, 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.
Associated Press writer Denis D. Gray contributed to this report.
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