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Thailand's Prime Minister Faces Protests and Vote in Parliament

By Ron Corben
22 June 2008

Thailand's Prime Minister says he will not step aside despite on-going protests but will face a no-confidence debate in parliament in the coming week. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok the prime minister also denies claims by protestors encamped outside the government's main administration building that he is acting on behalf of former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, currently facing corruption charges.

Thai Prime Minister, Samak Sundaravej, during his weekly address to the nation, said he was willing to face a no-confidence parliament debate this week but is refusing to bow to protester's calls for his resignation.

Mr. Samak, leader of the People's Power Party, oversees a six party coalition government elected last December. The elections ended 15 months of military rule after a coup in September 2006 ousted former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, now facing corruption charges.

Mr. Thaksin and more than 100 executives from the former Thai Rak Thai Party face five year bans from politics after being charged with fraud during elections in 2006.

Many former Thai Rak Thai Party members moved to establish the People's Power Party.

But Mr. Samak says his government was elected legally and is looking to serve a four year term in office. He also denied he was a proxy for Mr. Thaksin.

Mr. Samak said it still appeared those with ill feelings towards Mr. Thaksin were looking to have him resign as Prime Minister. This, he said, would head the country into an uncertain direction.

The current protests were launched in May by the People's Alliance for Democracy, the PAD; initially calling for a halt to constitutional changes that could have led to the investigations against Mr. Thaksin coming to a halt as well as the lifting of the political bans on the Thai Rak Thai party members.

Many at the weekend rallies, that drew several thousand protestors, were skeptical that Mr. Thaksin, a billionaire and owner of British premier league soccer team Manchester city, would remain on the sidelines of Thai politics.

At the rally, Pimpagon Rojananin, a fifth year student at Chulalongkorn University, says it will be important for the Thai political landscape that the court cases involving Mr. Thaksin go ahead, so political tensions in the country will be reduced.

"Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra after what he has done to our country at least standing in court and facing the sentence. If he is right [innocent] OK he's free but if it's not right he deserves [a punishment] for what he has done," said Pimpagon Rojananin.

Mr. Thaksin remains a deeply divisive figure in Thai politics drawing his support from rural populations and the poor with populist policies such as low
interest loans and low cost medical care programs.

At the same time, the urban middle class have attacked the former prime minister and his supporters over corruption and abuse of power charges.

Political analysts warn the outlook for the political landscape in Thailand will remain unsettled over the coming months. But the military, which launched a coup in September 2006 against Mr. Thaksin's government, has called for a political resolution to the present conflict, saying it will remain neutral.


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