April 4, 2006

Thaksin foes mull how to seal Thai PM’s exit

By Ed Cropley

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Foes of Thai Prime Thaksin Shinawatra,
exulting in his stunning promise to quit, were trying on
Wednesday to resolve key questions barring his way to the exit
after weeks of street protests calling for his head.

The demonstrators who have besieged Thaksin's official
offices for weeks were packing up their tents and preparing to
go home on Wednesday.

But even after Thaksin's Tuesday night promise, the
opposition remained suspicious that a man they accuse of
corruption and abuse of power meant what he said, and the
street protesters said they would be back if he did not quit by
April 30.

"He's trying to dictate the terms of his departure," said
Korn Chatikavanij of the Democrat party, which spearheaded an
opposition boycott of Sunday's snap election that went horribly
wrong for the telecoms billionaire.

Thaksin had hoped the poll would scotch the street
demonstrations that have snarled up the capital, hit the stock
market and baht and raised long-term fears about the strength
of the economy.

Instead, it revealed an unexpectedly large protest vote and
triggered a constitutional crisis when the boycott left 39
empty seats in the 500-member parliament, which must be full
for a new prime minister to be elected.

Thaksin's departure, which he said would come when
parliament next meets -- although nobody knows when that will
be -- makes a way out the constitutional mess possible, but the
exact course is far from clear.

Potentially solving the incomplete parliament issue,
Election Commission Chairman Wassana Permlarp said the
opposition could run in by-elections scheduled for April 23 in
38 of the empty seats, which all lie in the Democrat-dominated

The three opposition parties which boycotted the snap
election scheduled a joint meeting for Wednesday to decide
whether to run candidates in the by-elections, with the
Democrats dubious about the legality.

Law experts such as Thammasat University's Prinya
Thaewanarumitkul said the Election Commission had the power to
make that decision. "The Democrats would look very bad if they
did not run," he said.


Still displaying deep suspicions of Thaksin, whose Thai Rak
Thai party won the country's biggest ever majority in an
election a year ago, Korn said the resignation offer might be a
ploy to get parliament to open without the full quota of 500

"He's trying to get around the election law by forcing
parliament to open. I don't think anybody is in a position to
force parliament to open illegally," he said.

The constitution says all seats must be filled before
parliament can meet, but it must meet within 30 days of a
general election.

Adding to the confusion, the protest leaders -- a former
business associate and an ex-general -- set their own clock
running, saying they wanted Thaksin out by April 30, or they
would lay siege anew to his offices.

There is also the question of Thaksin's successor, as well
as his expressed intention to remain as head of Thai Rak Thai,
a position from which he would still be able to pull the
strings, said protest chief Sondhi Limthongkul.

The favorite for the succession appeared to be Deputy Prime
Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, a former finance minister
respected in the business community. Bhokin Bhalakula, the
speaker of the outgoing parliament, was another potential

Thaksin's departure was inconceivable 12 months ago, when
he was swept to power on a platform of cheap healthcare and
handouts to the countryside where 70 percent of Thailand's 63
million people live.

"I want to retreat by not taking the prime ministership,
but I have to be caretaker prime minister until the selection
process for the next prime minister is complete," he said.

He also apologised to the 16 million people he said voted
for him on Sunday only to see him pushed from office two days

"I must say that I'm not happy that I have to apologize to
the people, but this is to bring national reconciliation," he
said before turning with tears in his eyes to hug his family.