Thai opposition may take power, army’s aid hinted

The Associated Press

09-December 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Confident it can form a government, Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party called Monday for Parliament to vote on a new prime minister, while the ruling coalition said the army was interfering to help its rivals take power.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said his party was “ready to govern” to ensure Thailand recovers from months of political turmoil, which culminated late last month with the weeklong takeover of the capital’s two airports by anti-government protesters.

The Democrats formally asked the speaker of the lower house of Parliament to convene an emergency session between Dec. 12 and Dec. 26 so it can prove it holds a majority — a mandatory step in forming a government.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy protest group last week abandoned its occupation of the airports — which stranded upward of 300,000 travelers — after a court ordered the dissolution of the ruling People’s Power Party for electoral fraud. Many of its members migrated to the new Phuea Thai Party, set up in anticipation of the ruling, so they could try to form a new government.

But at the weekend, the Democrat Party said it had the support of 260 lawmakers — 166 of its members and the rest defectors — meaning in had control of a majority of seats in the 480-seat House of Representatives. The chamber currently has 438 members because of vacancies.

Supporters of the ruling coalition said the army had pressured lawmakers to switch sides.

The army had conspicuously failed to crack down on the protesters, who also occupied the prime minister’s office for three months in their campaign to topple the government. The protesters said the government was overrun with allies of billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup accused of corruption and abuse of power.

The military’s refusal to use force to remove the protesters was widely seen as tacit backing for their campaign. On Monday, supporters of the ruling coalition said that influence had extended to government.

“People in uniforms were pressuring political factions to join the Democrat-led government,” said Pheu Thai lawmaker Jatuporn Phromphan.

“People who love democracy are crying on the inside. They (the Democrats) did not win an election but they are getting support from people in uniform,” said Veera Musigapong, a Thaksin ally and former lawmaker.

Democrat party leader Abhisit denied the allegation, telling reporters that “everything is done and must be done through the parliamentary process.”

“The Democrat Party is ready to govern. We will do our best to gear the country out of its crisis,” said the 44-year-old Abhisit an Oxford-educated economist.

Army spokesman Col. Sansern Kaewkumnerd hedged his denial, saying “The army cannot resolve political problems.”

He said some politicians had called army commander Gen. Anupong Paochinda for advice, but only after they had already agreed to form a Democrat-led coalition.

Sansern said Anupong “told them that the army can work with any elected administration. He just requests that politicians put the country’s interest first.”

The Democrats voiced support for the alliance’s goals, but distanced themselves from the sometimes-violent street demonstrations and illegal occupation of the airports. One Democrat lawmaker was a top protest leader.

Thaksin fled Thailand in July ahead of a conviction for violating a conflict of interest law that saw him sentenced to two years in prison.

Although he lives in exile, Thaksin remains influential in Thai politics and is still supported by the rural masses who benefited from his populist policies during his 2001 to 2006 time in office.

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