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People's Power Party (PPP)

The return from the 2006 coup was unlike past restorations to democratic governments in Thailand. Democracy had not fully returned since the People's Power Party (PPP), the successor party to TRT, won the December 2007 election but its members were no longer in power. A previously obscure and insignificant party, PPP became the new home for scores of leading Thai Rak Thai (TRT) figures after the dissolution of TRT in May 2007. PPP was the sole party that had publicly shown its loyalty to deposed PM Thaksin (Samak said publicly he was Thaksin's "nominee"). It also advocates continuing TRT's hallmark populist policies.

The People's Power Party (in Thai: Pak Palang Prachachon) was formed in 1998. It appeared to be principally an enterprise of the Thiankaeo family, heretofore not prominent in political circles. Two sisters served as Party Leader and Secretary General, while their brother, a 46-year-old retired Police Lieutenant, heads the advisory board. By August 2007 former Thai Rak Thai (TRT) politicians who appeared to remain loyal to Thaksin joined en masse the previously obscure People's Power Party (PPP). This move appeared intended to assuage concerns that the delays involved in registering a new party could lead to many of these politicians being excluded from the next elections. The party's next formal leader remained undetermined, but most speculation centers on former Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej. Conventional wisdom held that Thaksin loyalists will comprise a significant opposition block in the next parliament.

Leaders of Thailand's likely top two political parties in the coming elections, the Democrat Party and the People's Power Party (PPP), outlined notional economic platforms at an investment conference on 12-13 September 2007. PPP Secretary General Surapong made no pretense of differentiating his party from its progenitor, although he avoided mention of TRT by name. Surapong defended "the previous government's" economic policies, crediting them with restoring Thailand's growth rates following the 1997 financial crisis and leading to today's climate of strong exports amidst minimal inflation and unemployment.

Citing the current account surplus and healthy level of foreign exchange reserves as additional benefits accruing from the TRT program, Surapong said a return to the "dual-track" economic approach (i.e. external economic liberalization combined with populist domestic programs) would alleviate what he called the two largest challenges faced by the Thai economy today: 1) The negative impact of the strong baht on labor-intensive and agricultural industries, and 2) The decline in domestic demand.

The 23 December 2007 general election saw the People Power Party emerging as the largest party, followed by the Democrat Party, the Chart Thai Party, and other parties. No party gained more than half of the 480-member House of Representatives. The People Power Party had a chance to form a coalition government, with Mr. Samak Sundaravej as the 25th Prime Minister of Thailand, after the election, while the Democrat Party served as the Opposition.

The House of Representatives on 28 January 2008 elected People's Power Party leader Samak Sundaravej as Thailand's 33rd Prime Minister. ( Only 24 other individuals have held the post; some served multiple, nonconsecutive terms.) Samak won election after the People's Power Party (PPP), which he heads, won a significant plurality in December 2007 legislative elections. The People's Power Party campaigned on a populist platform devoted to continuing the programs of the disbanded Thai Rak Thai party. PPP has also been widely seen as loyal to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who explicitly endorsed PPP in late 2007. In August of 2007, Samak publicly described himself as a "nominee" of Thaksin.

Samak was Governor of Bangkok from 2000 until 2004. As Governor, he had ambitious plans for innovative housing and transportation projects, but he scored few successes. As of January 2008, he remained under investigation for alleged bidding collusion relating to city garbage disposal contracts, and for alleged financial improprieties related to the city's purchase of fire trucks from Austrian firm Steyr Daimler Puch. Following his term as Governor, Samak was elected as a non-partisan figure to the Senate in 2006, but the September 2006 coup d'etat resulted in the abolition of the Senate before its newly-elected members could be inaugurated.

Prior to becoming Governor, Samak had won election as a Bangkok member of the House of Representatives 10 times, from 1975 to 1996. He also held various cabinet positions, including four appointments as Deputy Prime Minister in the early- and mid-1990's. He was Deputy PM in 1992, during the brief government of coup leader General Suchinda Kraprayoon; according to press reports, Samak defended the government's shooting of students in the "Black May" demonstrations. In the 1980's and early 1990's he served twice as Transportation Minister. He served briefly as Interior Minister in the government installed following the 1976 military coup.

Samak joined the Democrat Party in the late 1960's; he left the Democrat Party in the late 1970's and founded the Thai Citizen Party (TCP), which remained his political vehicle until the end of his term as Governor of Bangkok, although he resigned as Party Leader in 2001. (TCP was under the leadership of Samak's younger brother, Sumit Sundaravej; TCP failed to win seats in the House in the 2007 election.) Samak became Party Leader of the newly-formed PPP in August 2007.

Most Thais characterize Samak as a royalist and right-wing figure. His father was a Palace official, and Samak has enjoyed close ties to both the Palace and the military. He was staunchly and vocally anti-communist in the 1970's, and he called publicly for the use of harsh measures to suppress Thailand's communist movement.

The Supreme Court delivered a ruling on 08 July 2008 that may enable the Constitutional Court to dissolve the People's Power Party (PPP) and render Prime Minister Samak and other PPP executives unable to hold government office. If PPP were to be dissolved, this would prompt a change of administrations but not necessarily a new legislative election. The Court upheld the Election Commission's finding that former House Speaker Yongyuth Tiyapairat had violated the election law, determining that he is ineligible to hold public office. Because Yongyuth held a position on the People's Power Party (PPP) Executive Board at the time of the infraction, the door is now open for the Constitutional Court to consider dissolution of PPP. Article 237 of the 2007 Constitution provides that such violations, if committed or even tolerated by party executives, trigger a presumption that the party sought to acquire state power by unconstitutional means and, therefore, the party can be dissolved by the Constitutional Court, with all its executives subject to a five-year ban on political activity.

The long awaited ruling by the Election Commission (EC) on possible dissolution of the People's Power Party was deferred until 02 September 2008. The decision to put off the ruling on the PPP case had stemmed from technical errors involving information and evidence in the case, and not political interference.

On 17 September 2008, Mr. Somchai Wongsawat of the People Power Party was voted the 26th Prime Minister of Thailand, replacing Mr. Samak, who stepped down because of a court decision that he had violated the Constitution by hosting a television show [a cooking show], which was considered a conflict of interest.

Prime Minister-elect Somchai Wongsawat's cabinet lineup, sworn in late in the day on 25 September 2008 by King Bhumibol, consisted primarily of partisan political figures associated with the administration of Samak Sundaravej. A solid majority of the members of Somchai's cabinet are holdovers or returnees from his predecessor's. Of the 36 members serving under Somchai, only 12 did not hold positions under PM Samak.

Somchai's cabinet also maintained essentially the same balance among the People's Power Party (PPP) coalition partners. Chart Thai, the third largest party in the House, held five cabinet seats; Somchai's ties to Chart Thai Party Leader Banharn Silapa-Archa may be strengthened by the entry into the cabinet of Banharn's son, Varawut, who was appointed Deputy Transportation Minister. The Motherland Party held four seats; Motherland Party Leader Suwit Khunkitti, who resigned angrily from the Samak cabinet when it became clear he would lose out in a cabinet reshuffle, was not brought back into the fold. Smaller partners Ruam Chai Thai Chart Pattana and Matchima Thippathai held two seats each. Uraiwan Thienthong, wife of veteran politician Sanoh Thienthong, remained in her position as Labor Minister, and is the sole cabinet member from the Pracharaj Party.

Prime Minister Abhisit was voted the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand at a special session of the House of Representatives on 15 December 2008. He was supported by 235 votes, against 198 votes. The House session was called after the Constitutional Court ruled that three coalition parties, namely the People Power Party, the Chart Thai Party, and the Matchimathpataya Party, were guilty of election fraud in the 23 December 2007 general election. As a result of the ruling, Mr. Somchai Wongsawat of the People Power Party lost his premiership immediately. So the extraordinary parliamentary session was opened to select a new prime minister in accordance with the Constitution.

By mid-August 2008 some PPPs MPs had already moved to the newly established Phua Thai party. Other MPs who were once with the Thai Rak Thai party were expected to join the new party as well. After Mr. Abhisit was appointed Prime Minister in December 2008, the former People Power Party was replaced by the Pheu Thai Party, which became the largest opposition party.




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