World News

FACTBOX - From TV cook to PM? Thailand's Samak

People Power Party leader Samak Sundaravej gestures during an election campaign rally in Bangkok December 21, 2007. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Samak Sundaravej, an abrasive former Bangkok governor, appeared set to become Thailand’s next prime minister after his People Power Party easily won the most seats in Sunday’s general election.

Samak, 72, has made the return of exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in a bloodless military coup last year, a top priority.

Here are five facts about the pugnacious PPP leader:

-- Samak was elected to the Senate in 2006, but lost his job after the Sept. 19 coup abolished the constitution. He stayed in the public eye as host of a televised cooking show.

-- Born in Bangkok on June 13, 1935 into an aristocratic family, Samak earned a law degree from Bangkok’s prestigious Thammasat University and worked in various jobs as a clerk, tour guide and journalist.

-- Samak ran a radio campaign against pro-democracy student activists in the mid-1970s and supported a bloody crackdown on them in October 1976 which led to a coup. He served briefly as interior minister in the military-appointed government.

-- He was elected Bangkok governor in a landslide in 2000 but left office four years later with low approval ratings. He still faces graft probes into big projects started while he was in office.

-- The political knife fighter was elected PPP leader in August and vowed to fight “military dictatorship”. After a tussle with journalists during the campaign, cartoonists played on his bulbous nose and portrayed him as an uncouth pig.