June 23, 2008 3:00 am

Thailand's premier defies calls for resignation

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Samak Sundaravej, Thailand's embattled prime minister, vowed yesterday to cling to his job, defying thousands of protesters who have besieged his offices, demanding that he and his People's Power party-led coalition government resign.

Mr Samak - a veteran conservative, and his four-month old PPP-led government - have been accused of using their power to protect the interests of Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted former prime minister. His administration has also been accused of failing to address the country's worsening economic woes.

But in a nationally televised address, Mr Samak yesterday defended his record, maintaining that he would step down only if he loses a no-confidence motion filed by the opposition due to be debated in parliament this week.

"I will not bow to pressure," the 73-year-old politician declared. "I will pull out only if I am defeated by a vote in parliament."

Mr Samak was plucked from semi-retirement by Mr Thaksin after the former premier and his closest allies were banned from politics for five years in the wake of the September 2006 military coup that drove their Thai Rak Thai government from power.

Mr Samak led Thaksin loyalists, who regrouped under the PPP banner, to a December 2007 election victory and became premier in a PPP-led coalition with several other parties.

Since taking power, the PPP has sought to amend the military-sponsored constitution, incurring the wrath of Mr Thaksin's old enemies. They have accused the government of trying to alter the charter to subvert criminal proceedings launched against Mr Thaksin after the coup.

In late May, the so-called People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) - a group of protesters who had led the massive demonstrations against Mr Thaksin in 2006 - took to the streets to try to dislodge the administration.

Many analysts believe that the PAD - thought to have high-level backing from Mr Thaksin's enemies in the military and royalist - elites, is seeking to create the conditions for another coup.

On Friday, the PAD led thousands of mainly middle-class Bangkok residents who surrounded Government House, a provocative tactic aimed at heightening the sense of crisis.

"This government has no legitimacy," said Sirinuch Wasawat, a 40-year-old accountant, who joined the siege. "They don't pay attention to the people's problems. They are just thinking of their [own] benefit."

Ms Sirinuch admitted she was confused about who should govern the country: "It's very hard to say what kind of government we want, but we want this government out."

Protester Nirat Thaneerat, a 62-year-old insurance agent, said that Thailand should have an unelected government formed from representatives of all social sectors, and endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. "Whenever there is a new election, these people will come back and form the government," he said.

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