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Sompong leads the race

Fierce lobbying was rocking the political landscape as the House of Representatives is set to convene an urgent meeting on Friday to pick a new prime minister after Samak Sundaravej was ousted by the Constitutional Court yesterday.

A defiant People Power Party will try to nominate one of its senior members to replace Samak, but it first will have to overcome possible insurgency among coalition allies, who will keep options open till the last minute. With the opposition Democrat Party waiting in the wing and Chart Thai leader Banharn Sila-archa holding out hope for a political windfall, horse trading will be very intense in the next 48 hours.

Samak lost his post after the Constitution Court found him guilty of  hosting TV cooking shows in violation of the charter. The PPP leader, who disappeared from public view since returning from Udon Thani in the afternoon, can still be voted back as prime minister by the ruling PPP, but analysts view the chance as rather small.

PPP candidates to succeed Samak include three senior leaders _  Sompong Amornvivat, the justice minister; Suraphong Suebwonglee, the deputy premier and finance minister; and Somchai Wongsawad, the deputy premier and education minister. As of last night, Sompong seemed to have slight edges over the other two.

Meanwhile, the opposition Democrats have also explored the possibility of forming a coalition government with dissident government parties and MPs, including those of Chart Thai and Ruam Jai Thai Chat Pattana parties. Democrat kingmaker Suthep Thaugsuban was said to be sending out feelers to the coalition partners, particularly Chart Thai.

PPP's spokesman Kudeb Saikrachang said he was confident Samak would return as premier in the upcoming House vote, as he was already punished by the court for hosting the two cooking shows.

Samak did not commit serious wrongdoings as far as national affairs are concerned, he said.

PPP deputy leader Kan Tienkaew also said Samak still has a chance to be re-elected by the House. However, Kiatikorn Pakpiensilp, the Prachinburi MP of Machima Tippatai Party, a government party, said Samak should take his responsibility as ordered by the court, rather than making a come-back.

"Now, the PPP would have a chance to nominate other persons as prime minister, but I'm not sure if the names mentioned earlier would be acceptable," he said, adding that Machima Tippatai party will remain a government party.

Wallop Tangkananuluk, the former Bangkok senator, said Samak should not return as premier since such a comeback will worsen the political situation.

He urged the PAD to stop its protests after Samak is out of office.

Suthep Thugsuban, secretary-general of opposition Democrat party, said Samak had lost his legitimacy to return as premier following the court's ruling.

"I prefer government parties to pick a new premier to help resolve the political crisis," he said, adding that the Democrats will co-operate with other parties but cannot form the government due to the lack of House majority.

However, fresh efforts are under way to court some government parties and MPs to switch side and form a new government with the Democrats being the core.

This potential dissident grouping will include Democrat, Chat Thai, Ruam Jai Thai, and about 30 PPP MPs in the Northeast.

Banharn Silapa-archa, the leader of Chat Thai Party, and Pradit Pataraprasit of Ruam Jai Thai are among the crucial factors for this choice.

Banharn said yesterday he would not accept the premier-ship, but government sources said Banharn is also a candidate reportedly favoured by ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra as Samak's successor.


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