Image: Anti-government demonstrators disperse sand over muddy grounds of the Government House in Bangkok
Kerek Wongsa  /  Reuters
Anti-government demonstrators on Monday disperse sand over muddy grounds of the Government House in Bangkok, which they have occupied for the past three weeks in a bid to unseat the People Power Party.
updated 9/15/2008 5:42:44 PM ET 2008-09-15T21:42:44

Protesters occupying the grounds of the prime minister's compound plan to truck in sand to cover up the rain-fed muck they've been living in for weeks, but there's no such easy solution to the political mess they've created in Thailand.

While demonstrators from the People's Alliance for Democracy were putting up scaffolding Monday to help to shelter themselves, their opponents from the ruling People's Power Party were tearing themselves apart.

Dissident factions threatened not to support a consensus choice to become the next prime minister, although the party's executives earlier chose acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, 61, to be their candidate when Parliament meets Wednesday. A dissolution of Parliament to hold new elections is an option.

The previous prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, was forced from office last week when a court ruled he broke the law by accepting money to host a TV cooking show after he took office.

The People's Power Party has 233 lawmakers in the 480-seat Parliament. Seventy-three of them have signed a petition asking the party to reconsider Somchai's nomination.

PM candidate sought
"We will abstain from voting if (Somchai) is formally nominated," said Boonsong Wongtrirat, a spokesman for the lawmakers. "We want to choose a candidate who will not aggravate problems ... a candidate for the prime minister should not be a controversial figure."

Somchai is seen as problematic because he is the brother-in-law of disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political legacy is a prime target of the protest alliance.

Thaksin, a billionaire, was able to buy his way into power and planned to use his money to entrench himself there, they charge. He was ousted in a 2006 coup following demonstrations by the alliance and recently fled to Britain while facing corruption charges.

"Somchai is very close to the Shinawatra family," said Chamlong Srimuang, one of the protest leaders. "He is Thaksin's brother-in-law and will be even more his proxy than Samak ever was."

However, Somchai, deputy prime minister and education minister in Samak's Cabinet, has the kind of bureaucratic experience favored by Thailand's ruling class, having served more than 20 years as a judge before entering government.

His candidacy won backing from the second-largest member of the coalition, the Chart Thai party.

"He is gentle, sensitive and measured," said Chart Thai's deputy leader, Kanchana Silpa-archa. "He has qualities of a reasonable man who is willing to listen and compromise, which is what the country needs."

The protest alliance, which once claimed only to be seeking Samak's resignation, now has rejected any one from the Thaksin-backed People's Power Party.

In a statement late Sunday, it also rejected the idea of a nonpartisan unity government of all parties — including the opposition Democrat Party — saying it would "lead to a political compromise that lacks a parliamentary check-and-balance system."

Protesters want new government
Instead, it said it wants a "Peoples Revolutionary Government," though it was hazy about the details.

The alliance's footsoldiers are a mixed lot, including many people from the south, traditionally Thailand's most politically engaged area, and middle-class ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs from Bangkok, also a group with higher than average education and political consciousness.

The protest campaign's leadership — which include several former activists from the left and the labor movement — complain that Western-style democracy gives too much power to the rural poor, who they say are susceptible to vote buying.

They replacing an elected Parliament with one that is mostly appointed to keep power in the hands of the educated elite. They have dubbed their proposal "New Politics" and the "New Order."

"I think what we are seeing is a cataclysmic challenge to the status quo," comments Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

Thaksin made the country's rural majority his power base by empowering them, granting them unprecedented economic and social benefits in exchange for their support.

This use of democracy posed a fresh threat to what Thitinan calls the establishment, comprising conservative elements of the military, the bureaucracy and the monarchy.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, Thitinan says, serves as "the agent and vanguard of the establishment."

Some analysts believe the protest alliance has a positive role in Thai politics.

Gothom Arya, a former election commissioner, said he would not like to see either side lose, because the alliance acts as a check on abusive government and to promote political change.

But one of Thitinan's colleagues at Chulalongkorn University, political science lecturer Ji Ungpakorn, scoffs at characterizing the alliance that way.

"They want to wreck Thai society to have their 'New Order," he says.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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