Thai lawmakers to vote for new prime minister
AFP - 1 hour 34 minutes ago
BANGKOK (AFP) - - Thailand's lawmakers are due Monday to vote for their third prime minister in four months with the opposition party confident of finally taking power after half-a-year of crippling protests.
Parliament will meet at 9:30 am (0230 GMT) under heavy security for the vote, with 44-year-old opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva the front runner.
The Democrats say they are confident they have wooed enough lawmakers to form a government and fill the void left when a court early this month disbanded the ruling party linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
But last-minute lobbying and shifting allegiances mean the result will not be certain until the vote, with allies of Thaksin in the dissolved People Power Party (PPP) still insisting they have the support to cling to power.
"The race will be very neck and neck -- we will win by eight or 10 votes," Chalerm Yoobamrung, a minister under the PPP government, said on Sunday.
Democrat Party secretary general Suthep Tuagsuban, meanwhile, said: "I don't think MPs will change their minds ... I am confident that Abhisit will receive more than half of the parliamentarians' votes and can form the government."
PPP lawmakers have reformed as the Puea Thai (For Thais) party. So far they have not named a candidate for premier, but local media has said they may go for former police chief Pracha Promnog, head of the small Puea Pandin party.
The incoming premier must receive a simple majority in the vote during the extraordinary session of the lower house.
The vote follows six months of increasingly disruptive protests by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which peaked with a week-long blockade of Bangkok's airports beginning in late November.
The turmoil left 350,000 passengers stranded and has badly hit Thailand's economy, with GDP growth forecast at just two percent next year.
PAD supporters claimed the PPP was running the nation on behalf of Thaksin, and had already occupied the prime minister's offices since August and forced the suspension of parliament on one occasion.
Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and remains in exile abroad to avoid corruption charges.
Since elections returned democracy to Thailand in December 2007, the Constitutional Court has removed two Thaksin-linked PPP prime ministers.
In September this year, the court ruled that the elected premier Samak Sundaravej must be stripped of office because he hosted TV cooking shows.
Then on December 2, the court dissolved the PPP and handed a five-year political ban to then-premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law, over vote fraud charges dating back to December's polls.
Twice-elected Thaksin alienated elements of the old elite in the palace, military and bureaucracy, who saw his immense popularity among the urban and rural poor as a drain on some of their power.
British-born and Oxford-educated Abhisit failed to win over Thaksin's rural supporters in the elections, but is believed to have the backing of the kingdom's old establishment.
Thawee Suraritikul, a political science professor at Sukhothai University, said that if Abhisit did get the nomination, the Democrats would be faced with a shaky coalition and a slim majority.
"Their first three months will be a crucial period. They have many problems waiting for them -- economics, and the sharing of power among coalition partners," he told AFP.
PAD leaders, who suspended their protests when the court dissolved the PPP, will also be watching closely and have vowed to take to the streets again if they do not approve of Monday's choice of prime minister.
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