Loyalists of exiled former Thai PM Thaksin meet
By DENIS D. GRAY,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 17 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - Loyalists of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tried Sunday to counter a sudden bid by the main opposition party to form a new government it says will lead Thailand out of political chaos.
The move comes after anti-government protesters recently shut down the capital's two airports for a week, stranding more than 300,000 travelers and dealing a heavy blow to the country's tourism-dependent economy.
The government was dissolved by a court order Tuesday for election fraud. A number of members of ousted Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat's People Power Party, who owe their allegiance to Thaksin, regrouped in the new Pheua Thai Party.
Phuea Thai members selected Yongyuth Wichaidit, a former senior Interior Ministry official, on Sunday to head its ranks and grapple with the opposition Democrat Party for power.
Yongyuth, however, told reporters that he is willing to give the prime minister's job to one of the smaller parties in their rapidly shrinking coalition.
"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," he said, without elaborating.
The surprise offer was apparently aimed at wooing back former coalition partners who have defected to the Democrat Party.
The Democrat Party announced Saturday it had mustered 260 lawmakers in the lower house, enough to form a government with Oxford-educated party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new prime minister.
The house has 400 members from single-constituency elections and 80 party-list members. At present, 441 seats are occupied with the remaining vacant, which means a coalition needs the support of 221 lawmakers to form a government.
Surapong Tovichakchaikul, a Phuea Thai lawmaker, said the party can muster a coalition of at least 226 lawmakers. The claims by the Democrats and Phuea Thai indicated that either one of them was exaggerating its strength, or some coalition members promised support to both sides.
The political wrangling, taking place during a still chaotic situation after Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport reopened Friday, will not be resolved until Parliament meets within the next 30 days and the two coalitions will have to prove their majority. No date has been set for the session.
The Democrat Party is supported by the People's Alliance for Democracy, an activist group that spearheaded mass demonstrations against several recent governments led by Thaksin and his allies. The protests culminated in a weeklong siege of the capital's two airports.
Democrat Party Secretary-General Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters that negotiations with the other parties had been "the smoothest discussion" he has ever had because everyone realized the country's stability was at stake.
"This was the hardest decision we have made, but the country needs to move forward. We have to think of the country's survival and so we apologize to our MP friends and the people who support us, but we can't work with them anymore," said Boonjong Wongtrairat, a representative of a faction of 37 lawmakers who defected from the government camp.
Sombat Chanthonwong, a political science professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said many would find it difficult to accept Abhisit as the new prime minister because he did not emerge from an electoral contest.
"How can we have a prime minister who doesn't come from a democratic process? I don't get it," he said.
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.
Thaksin is still popular among the rural masses, reflecting the deep divide between the urban elite and the country's poor.
The political developments came as operations at the country's main international airport were being restored, although an airport public relations official said Saturday it could be at least a month before traffic was fully back to normal. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.
Associated Press writer Vijay Joshi contributed to this report.
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