Thailand's Democrat Party ready to regain power
By GRANT PECK,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 4 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - The battleground of Thai politics was set to shift from the streets to Parliament, as lawmakers prepared to vote Monday on a new prime minister.
The Democrat Party, which has not been in power for eight years, is confident it has the support of enough lawmakers to elect its Oxford-educated leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, as the country's new prime minister.
But parties loyal to the legacy of disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra also claim to have enough votes to name their candidate, former national Police Chief Pracha Promnok, to the top spot.
Thaksin's allies have led a coalition government since a December 2007 general election and are currently grouped under the banner of the Phuea Thai Party. A court ordered that party dissolved earlier this month for fraud in the polls that brought it to power.
The expected lower house vote comes after months of instability caused by anti-government demonstrations that culminated late last month with a weeklong takeover of Bangkok's two airports.
The protest movement seeks to purge politics of the influence of Thaksin _ who was ousted by a 2006 coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power _ and has threatened new but unspecified activities if Parliament elects a leader with links to him.
Thaksin now lives in exile, having fled Thailand ahead of an October conviction on a conflict of interest charge.
But he continues to play an active role in politics, and Saturday night Thaksin gave a prerecorded video speech to a rally of more than 40,000 of his supporters who gathered at a stadium in central Bangkok.
Thaksin decried inappropriate interference in the political process _ a reference to the army's alleged intervention in favor of the Democrats _ and denounced lawmakers who had been loyal to him but switched their allegiances. The army traditionally wields a great deal of influence in Thai politics.
The speech had been ballyhooed in advance as a last-ditch effort to rally support ahead of Monday's parliamentary session but it had no evident effect on the political balance.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications magnate, is still supported by many in Thailand's impoverished countryside because of his populist policies during his six years in power.
Democrat leader Abhisit told reporters Sunday that it was his party's "responsibility to offer another choice for the country when the former government has failed." He said his party would focus on national harmony and economic issues.
Thailand's economy has taken a battering due to the global slowdown, a local climate of uncertainty and the seven-day stoppage of international flights that battered the country's essential tourism industry. Some economists are predicting the country will slip into recession next year.
"No one likes the vacuum of power, especially in a time of economic difficulty. The Democrats seem to be stronger than Phuea Thai, so the private sector might give them full support just to have someone to answer for all problems we have," said Teerana Pongmakapat, a lecturer in political economy at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.
Suthep Thuagsuban, the secretary-general of the Democrat Party, said he was certain his party would get about 260 votes in Parliament on Monday.
"Thaksin's speech last night could not sway our supporters from the former coalition parties away, he told reporters. "We will definitely win."
But acting Public Health Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, a Thaksin loyalist, said the Phuea Thai Party has the support of at least 230 lawmakers who will vote for former police chief Pracha, who heads the small Puea Pandin party.
The House of Representatives normally has 480 members, but because of vacancies currently has 438 members. The next prime minister will need the support of more than 220 lawmakers.
Whoever is selected will be Thailand's fifth prime minister in a little more than two years.
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