Thailand’s parliament is to reconvene this week to vote on a new prime minister after the former government leader, Samak Sundarvej, was forced to withdraw his renewed bid after a boycott by key party members and coalition parties. But the governing People’s Power Party appears deeply divided over the choice of a close relative of former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, to the post.
Running for Prime Minister: Somchai Wongsawat
The governing People’s Power Party Monday gave its backing to Thailand’s interim Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to lead a new government, with the vote to go before the Parliament on Wednesday.
Somchai is a brother-in-law of former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin fled to Britain last month during a key corruption trial, although media reports say he remains in contact with key leaders within the People’s Power Party (PPP).
Wednesday's fresh attempt to vote for a new prime minister follows the failed return bid by Samak Sundaravej last week.
Samak had earlier been found guilty by a constitutional court of breaches of the charter due to conflicts of interests. He had hosted a TV cooking show after he had already taken up the post of prime minister. The ruling did not bar Samak from politics but key factions within the PPP refused to back his return to the leadership, fearing fresh street violence.
Calming down after street violence
The vote, if it goes ahead, comes after the interim government lifted a 12 day old state of emergency Sunday. The decree had been imposed after street violence between pro-government and anti-government groups left one man dead and dozens wounded.
Anti-government protestors, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have been encamped in the grounds of the main government administration building since August 26. The PAD had called for Mr. Samak’s resignation. But even with Samak gone, the PAD is still refusing to leave the grounds despite facing court orders.
Sunai Pasuk, a representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, said Thailand’s political landscape appeared to be calming down after weeks of political high tension: "For now at least there are efforts from the political parties in the parliament to go along with the principle of electoral democracy – i.e. the biggest party in the parliament has the right to nominate a new prime minister", he argued. "The problem is with the PAD. I would say the country should move ahead instead of allowing itself to be held hostage by the PAD."
But fresh uncertainties emerged late Monday when another faction in the PPP, accounting for more than 70 PPP members, said it would boycott this week’s parliamentary vote.
The PPP is largely made up of politicians from the banned Thai Rak Thai Party that had been led by Thaksin who was ousted from power in a coup in September 2006. Thai Rak Thai was banned by a constitutional tribunal for electoral breaches.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the split was a power struggle between the PPP factions: "The conflict between groups is intensifying. Thai Rak Thai always consisted of different factions under the leadership of one man – Thaksin and his no-nonsense style. But since his departure from politics it has become increasingly more difficult for these power groups to stay together."
But western diplomatic sources say the power-play within the PPP may also reflect positioning for new cabinet posts that are up for grabs with the appointment of the new prime minister.