Thai Opposition Moves Closer to Government

BANGKOK ~ Thailand’s opposition edged closer to forming a government this week, as defectors from the former ruling coalition reaffirmed support for a move that would turn the country’s political crisis on its head.

The development came despite efforts by the toppled People Power Party (PPP) to win backing ahead of a crucial vote for a new premier, the latest twist in months of turmoil including a recent blockade of Bangkok’s airports.

The power struggle erupted after a court last week disbanded the PPP – which is allied to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra – in what his supporters called a “disguised coup.”

Four small parties reiterated Tuesday that they would join the main opposition Democrat Party and abandon the PPP, whose members have regrouped in a new party called Puea Thai (For Thais).

The Democrats have called for an emergency session of parliament to prove they have the majority needed to form a government and nominate Oxford-educated party chief Abhisit Vejjajiva as premier.

The office of the secretary general of the lower house said the petition requested that the extraordinary session convene next Monday, and was with the king’s secretary awaiting royal approval.

“Nothing has changed,” said Sanan Kachornprasart, chief advisor to the Chart Thai party, which was one of the former coalition parties and was itself dissolved by last week’s court order.

“We reaffirm our support to the Democrat Party to form a government,” he said, following the initial announcement on Saturday that the four parties would switch sides.

A faction of the former ruling party confirmed for the first time Tuesday that it would also change sides.

“It’s my most painful decision but it is for the common interest. You should be reassured that I will not change my mind,” Newin Chidchob, the leader of the defectors, told reporters.

The would-be Democrat-led coalition says it wants to solve the country’s long-running political mess, which culminated in the November 25 to December 3 blockade of Bangkok’s two airports.

The royalist group behind the protests – the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) – claimed the government elected in December 2007 was too close to the ousted Thaksin and wanted to damage Thailand’s revered monarchy.

The interim government Tuesday formally lifted a state of emergency imposed at both airports, but the damage to the nation’s image abroad and to its tourism industry will take longer to fix.

Democrat chief Abhisit told reporters earlier that there were “many types of pressure and lobbying” as all sides tried to form a majority, but added that he was “still confident that we are ready to find a solution for the country.”

Democrat Party leaders claim to have won over about two-thirds of the 438 MPs eligible to vote for a new premier, comfortably landing the simple majority needed to form a government.

But Puea Thai continues to insist it has the support of at least 220 MPs and said it could nominate a prime ministerial candidate from one of the smaller parties to calm tensions.

“Our principle is if Abhisit becomes prime minister or a Puea Thai member becomes prime minister there will be opposition from both groups of supporters,” Puea Thai spokesman Pormpong Nopparit said.

Abhisit, 44, failed to win over Thaksin’s rural supporters in the general elections a year ago but is believed to have the backing of the kingdom’s old elite, while the PAD has not commented yet.

Thaksin was despised by elements in the palace, military and bureaucracy, who felt their power was undermined by his support in the populous countryside. He was ousted in a coup in September 2006.

The exiled Thaksin still overshadows Thailand’s politics. He is due to address a rally in Bangkok via telephone on Saturday, while his politically powerful ex-wife returned to the country at the weekend.

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