>Thai PM hits back at 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 Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej hit back at claims of mismanagement and cronyism Tuesday, during a no-confidence debate on his four-month-old government’s record.

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.

Speaking out against his detractors, Samak defended his government and claimed his opponents’ aim was to seek power for themselves.

“You couldn’t wait for your opportunity. You’re so eager to become prime minister,” Samak told opposition and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva during the debate.

“I was seriously insulted by the opposition leader saying that I am incompetent,” he said.

“The accusations by the opposition are too serious. I am confident that in my past four months I have done no damage to this country, I have the capacity to remain leader of this country,” Samak added.

He was responding to accusations by Abhisit that Samak and seven cabinet members were responsible for mismanagement of the economy and of a separatist insurgency in the Thai south.

“The government has totally failed to solve the energy crisis, high inflation and to address the southern unrest with national reconciliation,” Abhisit told parliament.

Democrat MPs also grilled Samak and his ministers over a deal with Cambodia over a disputed temple.

During the two-day debate the Democrats will also question the leaders over their close ties to Thaksin, and the transparency of procurement of buses for the capital, among other issues.

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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