>Thai PM faces critics in no-confidence debate

>Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej listens during a no-confidence debate at Parliament House in Bangkok.

by Thanaporn Promyamyai Tue Jun 24,

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s opposition began grilling Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej in a no-confidence debate on Tuesday, as his four-month-old government faces claims of mismanagement and cronyism.

Samak took office after his People Power Party (PPP) comfortably won elections in December, ending more than a year of rule by royalist generals who overthrew premier Thaksin Shinawatra

in 2006.

Samak openly campaigned as an ally of Thaksin, incurring the wrath of the elite and middle classes who despise the former premier and accuse Samak of doing his bidding.

Opening the no-confidence debate, opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva accused Samak and seven cabinet members of incompetent handling of the economy and mismanagement of a separatist insurgency in the Thai south.

“After the general election last December the public had high hopes that Prime Minister Samak’s government could solve our problems in the economy and with the southern unrest, but this government has done the opposite,” Abhisit told Parliament.

“In only four months, the government has caused considerable damage to the country. How will the next four years be if we allow your government to continue?” he said.

Democrat MPs also intend to grill Samak and his ministers over their close ties to Thaksin, a deal with Cambodia over a disputed temple and the transparency of procurement of buses for the capital, among other issues.

PPP spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said Samak was confident heading into the debate.

“He can answer any question because the government has done nothing wrong,” Kudeb said. “This debate is an effort to link him with former premier Thaksin to destroy his reputation.”

The debate will end with a no-confidence vote on Thursday, and Samak has vowed to step down if he loses.

This is a slim prospect, with Samak’s six-party coalition dominating two-thirds of the 480-seat lower house, analysts said.

“The opposition doesn’t have a large enough number of seats to make any difference, which reflects the fact they don’t have the popular vote,” said Giles Ji Ungpakorn, a politics professor at Chulalongkorn University.

Earlier Tuesday, Samak returned to his office for the first time in four days after thousands of protesters surrounded the compound Friday to demand his resignation.

The protesters from the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) set up camp outside Government House after pushing past police barricades to rally in the surrounding streets.

About 2,100 metropolitan police remained stationed around the compound as Samak arrived.

The PAD led protests against Thaksin in the months before the coup, and its latest demonstrations have raised fears of a new coup, which has sent investors fleeing the Thai stock market.

The group’s rallies exert a strong influence because the PAD leadership is seen as a reflection of the traditional power centres in the palace and the military.

Thaksin had antagonised Bangkok’s elite with policies such as free health care that endeared him to the populous rural heartland.

Analysts said that even if Samak were somehow forced out of office, tensions would remain between the traditional elite and voters.

“Even if there is a house dissolution and a new election, the politics will resume the same road because the PPP will come back, a shadow of the Thaksin system, and the PAD will resume its action,” said Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political analyst at Thammasat University.

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