(AFP) – Sep 14, 2008
BANGKOK (AFP) — Leaders of Thailand's ruling party agreed Monday to nominate acting prime minister Somchai Wongsawat to take on the job permanently as they try to douse weeks of anti-government protests.
Parliamentarians from the People Power Party (PPP) will be asked to endorse Somchai at a meeting expected to start at 2:00 pm (0700 GMT), spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang said.
However selecting Somchai, who is married to the sister of deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra, will likely inflame anti-government protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, who seized the prime minister's offices last month.
The PPP was forced to search for a successor to Samak Sundaravej after his bid to return to power last week, three days after being stripped of office, was torpedoed by a party revolt.
"The executive committee has unanimously agreed to select Somchai, who is the acting prime minister, as the candidate for prime minister," Kudeb said.
"He is a suitable candidate for this situation," he told reporters.
Two other candidates had been considered -- co-deputy PPP leader Sompong Amornviwat, and party secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee.
The party's eventual choice will be presented to its five coalition partners before going to parliament for a vote set for Wednesday.
"Somchai is going to be a sitting duck if he takes over the premiership as expected Wednesday, because the PAD will attack his fatal weakness as being Thaksin's brother-in-law," said political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak.
But any of the candidates would struggle to end Thailand's political chaos, as the thousands of protesters besieging the grounds of Government House since last month have declared they will stay as long as the PPP is in charge.
"We insist that we will not accept anyone from People Power Party to become prime minister," one protest leader, Pibhop Dhongchai, told AFP.
The demonstrators stormed Government House nearly three weeks ago to try to force the resignation of Samak and his cabinet.
Last week the Constitutional Court stripped him of office, ruling that he had illegally accepted payments for hosting television cooking shows.
Samak then Friday ended his bid to return to power after being deserted by his allies, scuppering a re-election vote in parliament.
The demonstrators, who represent Thailand's traditional elite, claim Samak and the three candidates to replace him are proxies for Thaksin.
The PAD also spearheaded protests against Thaksin in 2006, leading to the military coup that toppled him.
They are also pushing a broader agenda to scale back democracy by reducing the influence of poor, rural voters, who gave Thaksin their steadfast support for providing universal health care and low-interest loans.
Thaksin now lives in exile in Britain to evade corruption charges, which he says are politically motivated.
Despite that he casts a long shadow over Thai politics. His supporters won last December's election and he was consulted about Samak's renomination last week.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court is set to rule Wednesday in a corruption case against Thaksin and his wife. That verdict is expected shortly after the vote in parliament for the new prime minister.
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