Samak ends bid to return as Thai PM

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 12 2008 07:02 PM | Updated as of Sep 13 2008 03:02 AM

BANGKOK - Samak Sundaravej has ended his bid to return to power as Thailand's prime minister, an aide said Friday, after a revolt within the ruling party torpedoed his re-election in parliament.

"Samak will decline his nomination. Later he will resign as party leader," the Samak aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Lawmakers from the ruling six-party coalition failed to show up to re-elect Samak as prime minister during an emergency session of parliament Friday, three days after a court stripped him of office for hosting TV cooking shows.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) will now be forced to find a compromise candidate before Wednesday, when parliament has scheduled a new vote.

Samak's decision to bow out less than nine months after his victory in general elections seemed certain to embolden protesters who have besieged the prime minister's office for more than two weeks in a campaign to force out him and his cabinet.

The fiery-tongued 73-year-old has been a leading figure in Thai politics for three decades, with stints as deputy prime minister and governor of Bangkok.

He has stared down street protests and court challenges before, but was forced from office Tuesday when the Constitutional Court ruled that he had illegally accepted payments for hosting two TV cooking shows.

The verdict did not bar him from politics, and the PPP leadership had moved quickly to restore him to power.

But the move proved unpopular with at least two of PPP's coalition partners, and nearly one-third of the party's own lawmakers refused to back his re-election Friday.

Political analysts said that PPP could now face a challenge in finding a candidate to replace the combative Samak, one of the few politicians in Thailand willing to openly confront top figures in the palace and the military.

"The PPP's dilemma right now is that if it's not Samak, there's no one else in that league," political analyst Thitinan Pognsudhirak said.

Anti-government protesters representing Thailand's traditional elite stormed into the prime minister's official compound more than two weeks ago.

The protesters have occupied the grounds of the offices ever since, pressing their call for Samak and his government to step down, claiming that Samak is a proxy for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protest group, which calls itself the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), had also spearheaded protests against Thaksin in 2006, leading to the military coup that toppled him.

Thaksin now lives in exile in Britain to evade corruption charges, which he says are politically motivated.

Despite his exile, Thaksin still casts a long shadow over Thai politics.

The PPP said Thaksin, who personally tapped Samak to lead his supporters in last December's elections, had been consulted about the re-nomination.

The protesters have already vowed to rally for the ouster of any prime minister drawn from the ranks of the PPP.

The activists are also pushing a broader agenda to scale back Thailand's democracy by reducing the influence of poor, rural voters, who gave Thaksin steadfast support for providing universal health care and low-interest loans.