Thaksin 'willing to stand aside as premier'
Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is ready to surrender the premiership after the election to pave the way for Com-merce Minister Dr Somkid Jatusri-pitak or another candidate to succeed him during this highly volatile period, political sources said.
One Thai Rak Thai source said several key members of the party held the view that the post-election political situation would be deadlocked and suggested that Thaksin not assume the premiership.
"The caretaker prime minister has agreed to this proposal," the source said.
Thaksin's agreeing not to take the premiership at this juncture would help defuse political tensions to a significant degree, because his enemies and protesters would have no further cause to hold rallies.
Besides, the new government, if it can be formed, would not have a significant policy agenda because it would assume a caretaker role while political reforms are carried out.
"Then Thaksin can make a comeback after the political reform process is completed and a new election is called," said a source in the military.
There are two options that Thai Rak Thai could use to reduce political tensions after the election. If the opposition and the People's Alliance for Democracy agreed to form a "national government", which would include members of those groups serving as ministers in the Cabinet, Thai Rak Thai would propose that Deputy Prime Minis-ter Surakiart Sathirathai become the next prime minister.
However, the national government proposal has received a lukewarm response.
Option two would see either Somkid or House Speaker Bhokin Bhalakula take over as prime minister instead in a Thai Rak Thai-led government.
"It is certain that Somkid will be appointed as prime minister to succeed Thaksin, because he has been under his wing all along. Bhokin has ties with General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, but Thaksin has more trust in Somkid than in Bhokin," the military source said.
Bhokin comes from a legal background, while Somkid is more oriented toward marketing and economic management. But another political source said Somkid has said on more than one occasion that he does not want to shoulder the premiership during this political crisis. Besides, he is facing health problems as he has just undergone heart treatment.
Thaksin said after casting his ballot yesterday that he expected a high voter turnout in the election.
Thaksin and his three children yesterday voted in Bang Plad district before he drove his wife, Pojaman, to another polling booth.
"I thank those who vote because they help uphold democracy," he said.
After voting, Thaksin attended a meeting at Thai Rak Thai headquarters with senior colleagues to monitor the election's outcome.
Thaksin cancelled plans to announce his political strategy, saying that he would like to wait for final election results, according to party executive Suranand Vejjajiva.
"We want to know the real outcome first before announcing [a political stance]. We don't want to predict the results," Suranand said.
"After carefully considering the election outcome, we can't rule out the possibility of including small parties and other factors into our calculations," he said.
After Suranand made these remarks in the press room, some reporters rushed outside and told others that the premier would step down, causing quite a commotion.
Reporters had hoped to interview Thaksin, but he managed to sneak out of the building.
Because the opposition parties have boycotted the election, it has been a one-party race that is essentially a referendum on Thaksin.
Banharn Silapa-archa, the leader of the Chart Thai Party, which refused to participate in the election, said political turmoil would continue after the election, predicting there would not be enough MPs elected to make a quorum and open the first session of Parliament.
In several constituencies, there will be candidates who fail to muster more than 20 per cent of the support from eligible voters, making it necessary to hold new elections, Banharn said.
"How long this will take, I don't know. But it should not go beyond April 25, which is the 60th day after the House dissolution," Banharn said.
Snoh Thienthong, former chief adviser to Thai Rak Thai, said that although Thai Rak Thai might win the election, it would eventually face defeat. "The situation is like the US war in Vietnam. They could not stay on and eventually had to pull out," Snoh said.
Banyat Bantadtan, the former Democrat leader, said he believes there will be several more rounds of elections in constituencies with only one candidate who failed to muster more than 20 per cent of the voters' support.
"When there are more elections, the turnout will fall steadily," he added.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, Democrat Party leader, said he would wait for the outcome of the election before he made any comments. But he expressed his concern over violence in the past four days, which he said had harmed Thailand's democracy.
Asked whether he is ready to hold talks with Thaksin, who has signalled his readiness for a political compromise, Abhisit said: "I am not sure what kind of conditions or proposals there are going to be. But everything must be based on the principle that the country must return to normalcy in accordance with the Constitution."
Sudarat Keyuraphan, a deputy leader of Thai Rak Thai, said she is confident that the political tension will be defused regardless of the election's outcome. "If the public wants Thaksin to continue to work, the protesters must stop their activity because [the election] is the voice of the people. We have to respect the people's voice," she said.