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Thai opposition to name new premier

BANGKOK, December 8 – Thailand’s opposition party on Monday called for a parliament session to nominate its leader as the new premier, as the kingdom struggled to find a way out of months of paralysing political turmoil.

Democrat Party leaders said they were confident they could form a government and would put forward 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva for the top post.

The party says it has wooed four smaller parties away from the former ruling People Power Party (PPP), which was aligned with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Representatives from the parties have also confirmed they have switched sides but last-minute horse trading could see allegiances change.

The PPP was dissolved by a court last week and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat forced from office, but Thaksin’s allies have regrouped in the Puea Thai (For Thais) party and insist they can still muster the support to govern.

The fierce power struggle comes after the November 25 to December 3 blockade of Bangkok’s main airport by a royalist anti-government protest group, which brought Thailand to a standstill and badly dented the nation’s image abroad.

Democrat Party whip Sathit Wongnongtoey told AFP: "The party will ask for parliament to reconvene in an extraordinary session… the name who will be proposed as prime minister is Abhisit."

The extraordinary session needs the approval of the king, who is currently unwell, and could happen within days.

Up to 350,000 passengers were marooned in the kingdom by the closure of the airport, while analysts warn that the demonstrations could force Thai economic growth down to about two or three percent in 2009.

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The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) began its campaign in May to oust the government elected in December 2007, accusing it of being a puppet of Thaksin, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and lives abroad to dodge graft charges.

In August the PAD stormed and occupied the prime minister’s Government House cabinet offices, which were finally cleaned up and reopened on Monday — although there were few government officials to repopulate the stately rooms.

The PAD ended its sieges of Suvarnabhumi international airport and the smaller Don Mueang hub last Wednesday after a court disbanded the PPP, but activists have vowed to return to the streets if they do not approve of the new premier.

The most likely candidate for prime minister at the moment is Oxford-educated Abhisit, who 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.

Puea Thai has not yet named its candidate for prime minister.

Thaksin was despised by elements in the palace, military and bureaucracy — from which the PAD draws much of its support — who felt their power was undermined by his support in the populous countryside.

A new premier must be chosen by early January, and a fierce tug of war has erupted for the allegiances of the smaller parties and a faction of former PPP members of parliament who have said they will support the Democrats.

The former PPP has 212 seats, although 37 of those are from the faction that could defect in part or in whole, while the Democrat Party has 165 seats.

Coalition parties have more than 60 seats in the 448-seat House of Representatives between them.

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Adding to the sense of crisis last week, Thailand’s revered 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej was too sick to make a birthday-eve speech, which many Thais hoped would point a way out of the troubles.

The English-language Bangkok Post newspaper reported on Monday that the king’s fever was breaking, and he was eating soft foods.


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