Sat Dec 13, 2008 2:34pm IST
By Nopporn Wong-Anan
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra thronged a Bangkok stadium on Saturday to hear his “phone-in” speech, which organisers hope will sway votes for a new premier next week.
The rally was meant to “stop the military intervention” in politics, rally organiser Jatuporn Prompan told Reuters, adding that the former ruling coalition is trying to cobble together a new alliance after some of its partners joined the opposition.
Thailand’s parliament is expected to vote for a new prime minister on Monday, with the opposition Democrat Party the favourite to emerge at the head of a weak coalition government.
“The military and the Democrats are launching a disguise coup, claiming to have royal backing and coercing our friends to form a Democrat-led government,” Jatuporn said.
Army spokesman Sunsern Kaewgumnerd denied the allegation, saying Army chief Anupong Paochinda has no formal power to do so. He was only “giving advice” to politicians who came to seek his opinion about a new government, Sunsern said.
The army has put 2,500 troops on standby to help 1,500 police officers keep peace during and after the rally if requested, Sunsern said.
Dozens of buses arrived at a downtown soccer stadium, unloading hundreds of red-shirted supporters with anti-military banners and slogans praising Thaksin.
“We want Thaksin back to help solve the sagging economy,” Bangkok hotel employee Huan Petchtom said, complaining her hotel had had few guests after the anti-government protesters laid seige to two Bangkok airports earlier this month.
Parliament is voting for a new prime minister because Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was forced to step down after a court found his Peoples Power Party guilty of fraud in the December 2007 election that brought it to power.
The court ordered the party and two others in the coalition disbanded. All three have regrouped under new names.
Thaksin, the only elected premier to complete a full term in office, was ousted in a 2006 coup and accused of corruption and abuse of power after being re-elected to a second term.
He is expected to rally support for the latest incarnation of his party, now named Phuea Thai, at a speech in the stadium.
The opposition Democrat Party insists it has enough support from defectors in the previous government to elect its leader, Abhisit Vejjajiva, as the new premier.
Thai newspapers report both camps were spending hundreds of millions of baht to enlist parliamentarians on their side. One newspaper said the price had risen to 50 million baht ($1.4 million) per MP.
Thaksin, sentenced in absentia in October to two years in jail for breaching a conflict of interest law, is due to address his supporters at the 35,000-seat Supachalasai Stadium at 8 p.m. (1300 GMT), Jatuporn said.
He declined to say from where Thaksin, whose British visa was revoked in November and has been on the move since then, would make his telephone call. He said he expected the crowd to reach 60,000.
Jatuporn said the Thaksin-backed previous ruling coalition would have a majority and its candidate, former national police chief Pracha Promnok, would be elected the new premier.