By Luis Ramirez
19 January 2008
Backers of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have unveiled a coalition government with a large majority in the Thai parliament – another blow for the military and other opponents who have been working to keep the exiled former leader out of Thailand’s political scene. VOA’s Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok.
The People Power Party announced the formation of its six-party coalition government Saturday, a day after Thailand’s Supreme Court threw out attempts by the PPP’s opponents to disband the party and annul the results of recent parliamentary elections.
Former Thailand PM Thaksin Shinawatra listens to reporters questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, 25 Dec 2007
The PPP is made up primarily of supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a military coup in September 2006. His opponents had accused the PPP in court of committing election fraud by seeking, in effect, to re-elect Mr. Thaksin by proxy.
The PPP won the largest number of votes in the December elections, but came just short of the majority of seats it needed to form a government.
On Saturday, the party’s leader, Samak Sundaravej, who is likely to be the new prime minister, announced that a comfortable majority has been achieved through a coalition with five other parties.
“Altogether, six parties, it’s 315 seats. Three hundred fifteen out of 480, so this is enough,” he said.
The numbers mean that, short of staging another coup, the generals who ousted Mr. Thaksin 16 months ago have failed in their attempt to eliminate his influence on Thai politics.
In addition to the lawsuits that were thrown out Friday, Mr. Thaksin’s opponents have filed corruption charges against him and his wife, threatened him with arrest if he returns from abroad, and banned him from politics.
Mr. Thaksin is in Hong Kong, where he has been monitoring events at home. His wife returned to Bangkok earlier this month to face fraud charges.
Leader of Thailand ‘s People’s Power Party, Samak Sundaravej, leaves after press conference in Bangkok, 19 Jan 2008
Mr. Samak and other PPP officials have said they want to bring Mr. Thaksin back from exile and exonerate him of the corruption charges he faces. Mr. Thaksin says he hopes to return around April, but says he will not formally enter politics again.
Mr. Samak says he expects the new government to be in place within two weeks, once a prime minister has been formally selected and a cabinet is given final approval by the king.
Opponents of Mr. Thaksin include the urban and upper middle classes, who are critical of the corruption that was common during his administration. They also accuse him of disrespecting the revered Thai king.
But despite huge economic growth in the last generation, much of Thailand’s population still lives in poverty. It is among the poor that Mr. Thaksin draws his support, thanks to his populist policies.
Thaksin allies unveil coalition government for Thailand
BANGKOK (AFP) — The People Power Party, which supports deposed Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, unveiled a coalition government Saturday, capping a dramatic political turnaround 16 months after his ouster.
The announcement of the six-party coalition ended four weeks of suspense following last month’s general elections, which had left the PPP just shy of a majority in parliament.
“It took a long time to get here,” party leader Samak Sundaravej told a press conference. “I am really relieved that now there’s nothing more to worry about.”
Under the coalition the PPP-led government would control about two thirds of the 480 seats in parliament, he said.
“This will ensure that the government can last a long time,” he said.
Samak, 72, refused to say if he would become the next prime minister, although he now appears to be a top contender.
Parliament will open on Monday and could choose a new prime minister within a week, he said.
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej then must give his official approval, a formality that normally takes a few days.
Although the party won the election — the first since a bloodless coup in September 2006 — their victory had been threatened by legal challenges filed at the Supreme Court and dozens of vote fraud investigations by the Election Commission.
After a flurry of legal activity on Friday, the PPP found itself in the clear as the top court dismissed the most serious charges against it and election officials announced they had settled most of their investigations.
The creation of a new government led by Thaksin’s allies delivers an enormous blow to the royalist generals in the military, who had relentlessly sought to erase the flamboyant billionaire’s political and corporate dynasty.
After the coup, Thaksin and 110 of his top lieutenants were banned from politics and his once-dominant Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party was disbanded.
Military-appointed investigators froze about two billion dollars worth of his assets while lodging criminal corruption charges against Thaksin and his wife.
Thaksin has remained in self-imposed exile in Britain since the coup, but succeeded in remaining in the spotlight at home, especially with his purchase of Manchester City Football Club.
His allies regrouped under the banner of the PPP, and won last month’s polls even with most of their strongholds still under martial law since the putsch.
A PPP government is widely expected to welcome Thaksin back to Thailand, possibly by April, though many questions remain about exactly how that would happen.
He and his wife both risk possible prison sentences over corruption charges. Thaksin would also have to find a way to placate the royalist forces in the military that led the coup, in part by reassuring them of his devotion to the king.
“The legal and constitutional wrangling will continue after the coalition’s formation,” said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak, warning that there could be intense jockeying behind the scenes over the choice of prime minister.
“The Thaksin camp will have to make some concessions” to the military and other supporters of the coup, he said.
“They have to have a face-saving way to move on, and if Thaksin is smart, he’ll allow that.”
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