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Thailand Swears In New Cabinet Stacked With Thaksin Supporters


Thailand's new cabinet has been approved, putting in place the first elected government since the military ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. As VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Bangkok, the new cabinet is stacked with Mr. Thaksin's supporters, who are taking steps to prevent any new intervention by the military.

King Bhumipol Adulyadej approved the cabinet nominees Wednesday afternoon.

The new prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, assumes a double role - also serving as defense minister. The move is seen as a means to keep the military in check.

Mr. Samak and a number of others in the cabinet are close allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. After his ouster in 2006, a military-installed government dissolved his Thai Rak Thai Party and banned him from politics for five years. Mr. Thaksin - exiled since the coup - has been watching events at home from Hong Kong.

Prime Minister Samak has openly pledged his loyalty to Mr. Thaksin, but insists he is not a puppet for the exiled leader. In a recent exclusive interview with VOA, Mr. Samak said he is in close contact with Mr. Thaksin.

"He (has) no role. It is by law (that) he cannot enter into politics for five years," the prime minister said. "But anyhow, for non-official (matters), we can talk to each other. We cannot appoint him for any kind of thing. But for me, I can personally consult him for any kind of things, yes."

A Supreme Court decision last month cleared Mr. Samak's People Power Party of election fraud charges after opponents accused the party of running as a proxy for Mr. Thaksin. The party, which won the largest number of parliament seats in December, then formed a coalition with five other parties.

Other key cabinet posts are now in the hands of Mr. Thaksin's allies. Nopidon Pattama, the new foreign minister, for example, is his lawyer.

Some political analysts think it is only a matter of time before the coalition government takes steps to bring Mr. Thaksin back and exonerate him of a pending fraud charge.

He was forced from office after months of public protests backed by the military and the Bangkok elite who accused his administration of corruption, cronyism, and disrespect to the king. Mr. Thaksin, however, remains very popular among lower-income and rural voters.

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