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Aide: Thailand's Samak gives up bid for PM job

Thailand's ousted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will give up his attempt to win back his job, an  aide said, after political allies abandoned him in the maneuvering to end the country's leadership deadlock.
Image:  Samak Sundaravej
Former Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej walks past journalists while leaving Parliament in Bangkok.Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thailand's recently ousted Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej has decided to give up his attempt to win back his job, a close aide said Friday, after political allies abandoned him in the maneuvering to end the country's leadership deadlock.

Samak's aide Teerapon Noprampa told reporters that the former prime minister wanted to give them the message that he "has done his best as party leader and prime minister in defending the democratic system" and he had now decided to end his participation in those roles.

From now on, it was up to the party to decide what to do, he cited Samak saying, apparently referring to whom it wished to nominate as the new prime minister, which is its prerogative as the biggest party in the House of Representatives.

The House was due to pick a new prime minister on Friday morning, but failed to do so after not enough members showed up to hold a valid vote. It was rescheduled to Wednesday.

His ruling People's Power Party, riven by dissent, earlier Friday announced that it was giving up its bid to install Samak back in power. Samak himself has not publicly clarified his plans, but Teerapon — who served as his secretary general to him when he was prime minister — is the first close aide to speak on his behalf, and made the remarks to reporters waiting outside the former leader's house.

National crisis
Samak, 73, was booted out Tuesday by a Constitutional Court ruling for violating a conflict-of-interest law by hosting a television cooking show while in office. Initially, his party had said it would renominate him since the court ruling did not bar him from politics.

Criticism of Samak's leadership had turned into a national crisis on Aug. 26, when anti-government protesters occupied the grounds of the prime minister's office in the Thai capital Bangkok and refused to leave until he resigned.

Protest sympathizers also disrupted rail and air services, and threatened further actions to make governing impossible. They remain ensconced on the Government House grounds, and have vowed to stay if another Thaksin crony is named the new prime minister.

The demonstrators belonging to the People's Alliance for Democracy accuse him of being a stooge of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently fled to Britain with his family while facing corruption charges. Samak was ousted in a 2006 coup after street demonstrations by the alliance, which is generally known by its initials, PAD.

After a daylong Friday meeting, the People's Power Party agreed it will not endorse Samak at Wednesday's House vote to elect a new prime minister because of opposition from the other five parties in the ruling coalition.

About 70 lawmakers of Samak's own party also opposed him.

"We have come to a resolution that since the coalition partners and some of the party members do not agree with appointing Samak" the party would have to pick someone else, said party spokesman Kuthep Saikrajang.

The surprise decision was a clear sign that Samak was seen by the ruling party as a liability. There is some concern that the instability caused by the protests of the People's Alliance for Democracy could result in economic chaos or even a military coup if not ended soon.

Kuthep said the party has short-listed three candidates to replace Samak — acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Justice Minister Sompong Amornwiwat and Finance Minister Surapong Seubwonglee.

He did not say when the party will decide on the final candidate to contest the vote in Parliament. There was also no immediate word from the coalition partners but they are likely to accept anyone as long as it was not Samak.

Thaksin's 'pawn'
Samak is a pugnacious politician who in his four-decade career has antagonized virtually every Thai institution, including the military and the media.

The protesters call Samak a pawn of disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin, who was ousted in a military coup following massive street protests in 2006 also led by the People's Alliance for Democracy. It was Thailand's 18th coup since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The People's Power Party has 233 lawmakers in the 480-seat Parliament, but 10 are disqualified from voting, leaving it 18 short of a majority. The other five parties in the coalition control 83 seats, while the opposition Democrat Party has 164 seats.

When parliament tried to convene Friday to elect Samak's replacement, the session was boycotted by Samak's coalition partners.

Opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said "it's time to get the country out of its crisis, and to do that we need leaders with a fresh attitude."

"The people are hurting, the economy is hurting. And, unless we are open-minded about what kind of solutions are available, we can't take things forward."