Mon, Dec 15, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Thailand tense on eve of vote

ARMED AND READY Police said they would have about 1,200 officers on duty for a special session of parliament today during which a new prime minister will be elected


Thailand was on edge yesterday on the eve of a vote for a new prime minister, with the opposition party still confident of a win despite a last-minute intervention by ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Billionaire Thaksin, toppled in a 2006 military coup, weighed in from exile late on Saturday, accusing the army of interfering in politics.

Members of parliament (MPs) will choose Thailand’s third prime minister in four months today, with opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on the verge of the winning after the pro-Thaksin government was brought down by court order and hit by defections.

Abhisit’s Democrat Party and Thaksin’s allies were engaged in fierce last-minute lobbying to win over a handful of undecided .

“The more [Thaksin] talks, it makes MPs feel uncomfortable. This is not about betrayal — it is about a decision for the nation,” Democrat Secretary-General Suthep Tuagsuban said. “I am confident that Abhisit will receive more than half of the parliamentarians’ votes and can form the government.”

Thaksin gave a pre-recorded video address shown at a Bangkok stadium to about 50,000 supporters bedecked in bright red, saying there would be no end to Thailand’s political strife if the generals keep meddling.

“At the moment the army is interfering ... Those people who interfere in forming the government must stop and withdraw,” he said.

Thaksin, who is living in an undisclosed foreign location to dodge graft charges, said the military was behind the defection of former ruling coalition lawmakers who have now backed the British-born Abhisit.

Army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd yesterday denied that the military had a hand in the political horse-trading, as parties jostle to fill the power vacuum left by the dissolution of the People Power Party (PPP).

“We are not interfering in politics. We say only that it is parliament’s duty and whatever the decision is, they should think about the nation first and foremost,” he told reporters.

Police say they will have about 1,200 officers on duty outside parliament for the special session today in case of protests by Thaksin supporters. They say the army will be called in if there are any clashes.

The political maneuvers follow six months of protests by the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which peaked with a week-long blockade of Bangkok’s airports beginning late last month.

The turmoil left 350,000 passengers stranded and badly hurt Thailand’s economy, with GDP growth forecast at 2 percent next year.

The PAD ended the airport siege after a court on Dec. 2 dissolved the PPP and handed a five-year political ban to then-prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law.

Thaksin’s allies have regrouped in the newly formed Puea Thai (For Thais) party and insist that they can still form a government when the members of parliament vote.

“The race will be very neck and neck — we will win by eight or 10 votes,” said Chalerm Yoobamrung, a Puea Thai member who was health minister under the PPP-led government.

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