Thai parties locked in fierce power struggle
AFP - 12 minutes ago
BANGKOK (AFP) - - Thailand's opposition party on Monday requested a parliament session to nominate its leader as the new premier, but the former ruling party refused to give up the fight as political turmoil dragged on.
Opposition Democrat Party leaders said they were confident they could form a government and would put forward their leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for the top post, as the nation reels from last week's crippling airport blockades.
The Democrats say they have wooed four smaller parties away from the former ruling People Power Party (PPP), which was aligned with controversial ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The PPP was dissolved by a court last week and prime minister Somchai Wongsawat forced from office, but Thaksin's allies have regrouped in the Puea Thai (For Thais) party and insist they can still muster the support to govern.
The fierce power struggle comes after the November 25 to December 3 blockade of Bangkok's main airport by a royalist anti-government protest group, which brought Thailand to a standstill and badly dented the nation's image abroad.
Democrat Party whip Sathit Wongnongtoey told AFP: "The party will ask for parliament to reconvene in an extraordinary session... the name who will be proposed as prime minister is Abhisit."
The party's secretary general Suthep Tuagsuban said he was confident it would be able to count on the support of nearly two-thirds of lawmakers in the lower house, after a defection of the four parties and a faction of former PPP parliamentarians.
House Speaker Chai Chidchob confirmed he had received a letter requesting a special session signed by 242 parliamentarians, but said it could take at least three days to submit it to the king for approval and set up the session.
Representatives from the small parties have confirmed they have switched sides but last-minute horse trading could see allegiances change -- something that Puea Thai is banking on to hang on to power.
"It will not be clear until the MPs announce in parliament who they will vote for," Vittaya Buranasiri, a senior Puea Thai member, said on Thai television.
The closure of Bangkok's two airports left up to 350,000 passengers marooned in the kingdom, while analysts warn that the demonstrations could force Thai economic growth down to about two or three percent in 2009.
The People's Alliance for Democracy began its campaign in May to oust the government elected in December 2007, accusing it of being a puppet of Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to dodge graft charges.
In August the PAD stormed and occupied the prime minister's Government House cabinet offices, which were finally cleaned up and reopened on Monday -- although there were few government officials to repopulate the stately rooms.
The sieges of Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller Don Mueang hub ended last Wednesday after a court disbanded the PPP, but activists have vowed to return to the streets if they do not approve of the new premier.
The most likely candidate at the moment is Oxford-educated Abhisit, who failed to win over Thaksin's rural supporters in the general elections a year ago but is believed to have the backing of the kingdom's old elite.
Puea Thai has not yet named its candidate for prime minister.
Thaksin was despised by elements in the palace, military and bureaucracy -- from which the PAD draws much of its support -- who felt their power was undermined by his support in the populous countryside.
Adding to the sense of crisis last week, Thailand's revered 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej was too sick to make a birthday-eve speech, which many Thais hoped would point a way out of the troubles.
The English-language Bangkok Post newspaper reported on Monday that the king's fever was breaking, and he was eating soft foods.
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