September 10, 2008 / 5:02 AM / 11 years ago

Thai parties huddle ahead of Friday's PM vote

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The parties in Thailand’s ruling coalition met behind closed doors on Wednesday to agree a replacement prime minister for Samak Sundaravej, who was removed by the courts for hosting TV cooking shows while in office.

Anti-government student demonstrators protest in front of the Ministry of Education in Bangkok September 10, 2008. REUTERS/Kham

Samak’s People Power Party (PPP), the biggest in the six-member coalition, backed off an earlier pledge to re-nominate him as prime minister ahead of Friday’s parliamentary vote.

“What the party spokesman said yesterday was not the party’s resolution. Our resolution is the next prime minister must come from the People Power Party,” Finance Minister and PPP secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee told reporters.

Smaller partners have also not made their stance clear.

Chart Thai, the second largest party in the coalition, met with the PPP amid newspaper speculation that its leader, Banharn Silpa-archa, would replace Samak.

Banharn, a veteran provincial powerbroker whose disastrous premiership in the 1990s contributed to a baht collapse that triggered the wider Asian financial crisis, denied the rumors.

“It is impossible for the PPP to vote for me to be the prime minister. They have many choices, apart from Samak,” he told reporters before meeting Surapong and other PPP leaders.

The 73-year-old Samak has yet to comment on Tuesday’s court ruling that he had violated the constitution by hosting cooking shows on commercial television while in office. The conflict of interest verdict did not include a ban from politics.

Analysts said the verdict should have provided at least a stop-gap solution to the crisis, but the likelihood the stalemate will drag on for months is likely to take a further toll on Thailand’s financial markets.

The main stock index has fallen nearly 25 percent since a street campaign against the Samak government began in late May.

Ratings agency Fitch said the political maelstrom might “eventually” undermine Thailand’s sovereign debt ratings, and Surapong said the crisis meant the economy would miss the government’s 2008 growth target of up to 6 percent.

Protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), who accuse Samak of being a puppet of Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as premier by the army in a 2006 coup, said they would not move from Government House, which they have occupied for two weeks.

Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat — who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law — was named acting prime minister, an appointment hardly likely to calm PAD ardor.

Additional reporting by Trisanat Kongkhunthian and Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Darren Schuettler

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