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Thai Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Motion


The Thai prime minister and his cabinet have defeated an opposition parliamentary no-confidence motion. The government's five-party coalition closed ranks against opposition accusations of economic mismanagement and a heated debate over national sovereignty. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, a senior minister also discounted any moves of a cabinet reshuffle after the vote.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and his cabinet had faced accusations of economic mismanagement and of disregarding Thailand's national sovereignty.

After three days of feisty debate on the no-confidence motion, the vote highlighted the unity of the five-party coalition government.

The president of the parliament, Chai Chidchob, announced the final tally.

He says Mr. Samak received 280 votes, and that there were 162 votes in favor of the no-confidence motion.

The opposition has accused Mr. Samak of being unable to manage his government.

The commerce minister came under fire over his handling of the country's rice industry. Rice prices have risen sharply over recent months adding to the pain the middle class and poor are suffering because of high fuel prices.

The opposition also said Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and the rest of the government acted in haste in an agreement with Cambodia over an ancient temple on the Thai-Cambodian border. The opposition says the government gave territory to Cambodia, which the government denies.

Finance Minister Surapong Subewonglee, one of the ministers facing the no-confidence motion, calls the debate's result satisfactory.

"Yes, because the outcomes of the vote for the prime minister and every minister is almost the same," said Surapong. "This is just a democratic activity in the parliament. This is normal activity that the opposition party have to debate to voice their opinion. But we do not put much stress on this."

Surapong denied media speculation of a cabinet changes after the vote. News reports said the foreign minister and the commerce minister would likely lose their posts after the debate.

Banharn Silparcha is a leader of the Chart Thai party - a member of the coalition. He says the coalition government remains strong, and called the debate an opportunity for allegations of corruption or mismanagement to be raised in public.

"At least some of the wrongdoings can be heard and the opinions of the people inside the parliament can be delivered to the people," said Banharn.

The government has been under intense pressure over recent weeks from protestors who accuse it of interfering in corruption cases involving former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The protestors, who have been camped outside the main government administration building for the past week, call for Mr. Samak to resign. But the prime minister, elected last December, appears ready to try completing a four-year term.

The protesters are expected to continue their demonstrations. Many accuse Mr. Samak of being too closely allied with Mr. Thaksin, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Political analysts say Thai society is deeply divided between supporters of Mr. Thaksin, who are mostly the urban and rural poor, and his critics, who are largely middle-class urban residents.

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