>Totally isolated PM


(BangkokPost.com, TNA)

Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag (pictured) resigned on Wednesday, and Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej booked early morning air time for a special speech to the nation, as he became increasingly isolated by the militant street protests.

A reliable source disclosed that Mr Tej quit in apparent protest, the day after the premier declared emergency rule on Tuesday after clashes between his supporters and anti-government protesters killed one man and injured 43.

Mr Samak ordered TV and radio time beginning at 7:30am (0030 GMT) on Thursday, through the Public Relations Department.

Officially, he will “speak to fellow Thais about the ongoing political turmoil,” PRD sources said.

Unofficially, there was high speculation he might decide to resign. Leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy said on Wednesday that the minimum requirement for negotiations with authorities are the resignations of Mr Samak and his cabinet.

Diplomatic sources said Mr Tej quit because he was upset with the political events of the past several days, during which a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok after a bloody clash between supporters of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and members of the United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) early Tuesday morning.

One person, confirmed to be a UDD supporter, was killed.

A highly-placed source at the ministry, however, said Mr Tej resigned because he needed time to nurse his ailing wife.

The resignation letter was submitted to Mr Samak through Deputy Prime Minister Sahas Bunditkul.

The source said Mr Samak has put the resignation on hold, but Mr Tej will not be going to work. Mr Tej could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The diplomatic sources said whatever the reason for Mr Tej’s resignation, his departure would certainly plunge the beleaguered Samak government into further turmoil.

Mr Tej, a respected bureaucrat and adviser to His Majesty’s principal private secretary, gave the government’s image a lift when he agreed to become foreign minister on July 27.

The sources said it was agreed Mr Tej was one of the government’s last strands of credibility and his resignation may be construed by anti-government members as an inspiration to intensify acts of civil disobedience.

Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan expressed concern over Mr Tej’s resignation.

“I am also concerned that it will affect Thailand’s role as Asean chairman. I hope a clear political picture emerges soon,” he said in a written comment.

“Either a new foreign minister is appointed soon or an assignment is given to a deputy PM to take full charge of foreign affairs.”

Former deputy foreign minister Sukhumband Paribatra, who is now the Democrat party’s shadow foreign minister, said it was possible Mr Tej had grown weary of answering questions from the foreign press about the unrelenting political crisis in Thailand.

“It doesn’t look good for the government that a figure of such stature has called it quits,” he said.

Mr Sukhumband said Mr Samak must find a replacement for Mr Tej within 24 hours, someone who can work straight away, because there are many regional meetings coming up, including the 14th Asean summit in December.

Mr Tej resigned the day after his secretary Poksak Nilubol handed in his resignation.

“I resigned because I cannot work under a government leadership which assumes no responsibility for what’s going on in the country,” said Mr Poksak.

A number of MPs from the ruling People Power party agreed that without Mr Tej the government would have little chance to cling on to power.

Sakda Kongpetch, a Roi Et MP, said Mr Tej’s exit would be a catalyst for a House dissolution. Mr Samak is not likely to survive the political onslaught.

Despite the imposition of the state of emergency, the government had failed to regain access to Government House, which remains occupied by PAD protesters.

He predicted that with the passage of the Budget Bill, expected today, the opportunity had arisen for a House dissolution, even though no MP wants fresh elections right now.

PPP deputy leader Karn Thienkaew said although the government could function under the circumstances, the situation could spin out of control and that would make a House dissolution necessary. But it was up to the prime minister to decide the course of action.

From our earlier report:

Mr Tej claimed he wanted to leave the office he only recently took over in order to care for his ailing wife. He sent his resignation letter to Mr Samak. Although the premier did not officially accept the letter, Mr Tej was not expected to show up for work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, according to the source.

Mr Tej, a former permanent secretary for foreign affairs, replaced Noppadon Pattama as foreign minister who had been pressed to resign in the wake of the listing of the disputed Preah Vihear temple as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

Mr Tej held talks with his Cambodian counterpart over the dispute in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one day after he had assumed the ministerial post on July 27.

High-level diplomacy has been taking place to reduce escalating tension. An agreement was reached, following a meeting between Thai and Cambodian foreign ministers late August, to reduce troop numbers near the temple.

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