POLITICAL CRISIS
Samak defiant as pressure mounts
By The Nation

PM vows to form 'street gang' if he loses censure debate

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej insists he will not yield to the pressure of protesters demanding his resignation and will face a censure debate in Parliament to quell a threat to topple his government.

He said if he were to lose the censure debate this week and was replaced by Abhijit Vejajjiva of the Democrat Party, he would form a "five-member street gang" to attack the government and see how Thai democracy works.

Samak is desperately fighting to keep his post following growing signs he may have lost public support as well as the backing of his People Power Party.

In his TV and radio address yesterday, Samak lashed out at street protesters led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, which managed to surround Government House on Friday with little resistance from police and security forces.

Samak said: "If Abhisit succeeds in forming a new government, I would call up five persons to set up a street gang. Let's see how we can live or how the country will look like."

The premier aimed his criticism at the five PAD leaders, including Chamlong Srimuang and Sondhi Limthongkul, who have staged rallies with thousands of supporters since May 25.

They said the rally around Government House would continue until the government resigned and the Thaksin regime was uprooted forever.

Samak said he would return to work today at Government House despite protesters surrounding it.

"I am telling you that the government is still stable. The situation in the country is still normal," he said.

Samak has sought to defuse political tension by agreeing to let the Senate and the opposition Democrats grill his government.

Today the Senate will launch a general debate on the Samak government over its failure to manage the economy, hard hit by higher oil prices, rising inflationary pressure and the higher cost of living. There will be no voting at the end of the debate.

The Democrats will follow up with a no-confidence censure debate against Samak and seven members of his Cabinet tomorrow and Wednesday before Parliament ends the extraordinary session with the budget debate for fiscal 2009 on Thursday and Friday.

During the no-confidence debate, Samak cannot dissolve Parliament.

Abhisit yesterday held a meeting with senior Democrats such as Suthep Thaugsuban, Banyat Bandtatarn, Korn Chatikavanij, Julin Laksanavisit and Thepthai Senpong to discuss their strategy for the debate.

Suthep said the government was trying to curb the debate by giving the opposition only a day and a half to finish the grilling. Normally, it would take at least seven days and seven nights for the debate, he added.

He added: "But everything is too late for the government to try to avert the strong political wind against it."

It remains unclear whether the coalition partners will continue to support the prime minister.

Chart Thai deputy spokes-man Sonthiya Sawasdee said he would propose Banhan Silapa-archa, the Chart Thai leader, succeed Samak if the PM steps down.

Sonthiya said the People Power Party's nomination of another leading member to become prime minister would not solve the political conflict.

"If a party member such as [Deputy Prime Minister] Somchai Wongsawat is proposed for the post, it will lead to opposition and the People's Alliance for Democracy will not accept it," Sonthiya said.

So far General Anupong Paochinda, the army chief, has voiced objection to any attempt to use the Emergency Decree and the Internal Security Act to disperse the crowd, arguing that the conflict should be resolved through political means.

Samak does not have any MP support in the PPP.Power Party.