Thailand holds special parliament session to defuse crisis (Lead)

August 31st, 2008 - 3:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangkok, Aug 31 (DPA) Thailand launched a special parliamentary session Sunday to defuse a spiraling political crisis caused by the occupation of Government House - the government’s administrative headquarters - by thousands of protesters for the past week.Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej agreed to a special joint session of both the lower and upper houses of parliament after police failed to oust thousands of anti-government demonstrators from the seat of government Friday.

The prime minister is likely to face criticism from the opposition Democrat Party and some senators Sunday for his handling of the Government House crisis, but he has made it clear that he will not resign over the matter.

“I came to power in accordance with the law,” said Samak, addressing his weekly “Talking Samak Style” television programme Sunday morning. “I have done nothing wrong.”

More than 10,000 followers of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) Tuesday stormed and occupied Government House, demanding Samak’s resignation and the dissolution of parliament.

Samak, who heads the People Power Party (PPP), received a political boost Saturday night before the special parliamentary session when his coalition partners confirmed their support for the besieged premier at a press conference.

The 73-year-old veteran politician was also granted an audience with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Saturday evening at the monarch’s palace at Hua Hin beach resort, 150 km southwest of Bangkok.

Samak appeared self-confident after the royal audience.

“Fear can cause damage, but I am not afraid,” said Samak in his weekly talk to the nation.

He blasted the PAD for breaking the law in seizing Government House Tuesday, and trying to create a “spark” to bring down the government.

The PAD’s campaign to bring down the Samak government gained momentum Friday when police tried to forcefully remove the protesters from Government House, injuring a score of people with batons.

The show of police force prompted PAD followers to raid and shut down three popular airports in Phuket, Hat Yai and Krabi, all in southern Thailand. Phuket and Krabi airports were still closed to traffic Sunday, leaving scores of foreign tourists stranded.

Airline industry sources said they expected Phuket Airport to be reopened by Monday.

The labour union of the State Railways of Thailand also shut down several routes nationwide in a show of support for the PAD.

The police were forced to retreat, leaving the PAD in control of Thailand’s seat of government over the weekend.

Samak, who is also defence minister, Friday reportedly wanted to declare a state of emergency to deal with the PAD protest but the proposal was rejected by Army chief General Anupong Paojinda.

Political analysts say Samak faces a dilemma in dealing with the PAD, which is openly pro-monarchist, because the military will not use force in disbanding the demonstration.

The PAD is a political movement that was launched as a spearhead to topple former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who was eventually ousted by a military coup Sep 19, 2006.

Its leaders advocate a return to Thailand’s old-style democracy, favouring a lead role of the bureaucracy, the military and appointed office holders over elected members of parliament.

It is deemed a conservative reaction to the populist policies of Thaksin and the Samak’s PPP, that have proved successful in winning elections by gaining the support of Thailand’s urban and rural poor.

The movement has won the support of many middle-class Thais who are fed up with the corruption and abuses of power that are part and parcel of elected governments in Thailand.

The Samak-PAD showdown is seen by some analysts as a crucial test for Thailand’s democratic system, which can be characterised as a see-saw between elected governments and governments headed or appointed by the military.

“If the PAD succeeds in ousting Samak, it will be a huge setback for Thai democracy,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“It will be the crowning success for the right-wing conservative contingent who are against election-based democracy.”

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