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Thaksin Relative Has Party Backing for Thai Prime Minister


Thailand's People's Power Party has nominated a relative of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to become the nation's new leader. But as Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, fighting among the PPP's factions created uncertainties before the vote.

The People's Power Party has endorsed interim Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to lead a new government. His nomination goes to a vote in parliament Wednesday.

Mr. Somchai, a former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, is seen as less combative than Samak Sundaravej, who had to resign as prime minister last week after a court ruled he had violated conflict of interest rules. Many PPP members and the party's five coalition partners refused to re-elect him.

Sunai Pasuk, a representative in Thailand for Human Rights Watch, says with the vote coming Wednesday the political landscape appears to be settling after weeks of tension.

"For now at least efforts from the political parties in the parliament to go along with the existing principal of electoral democracy - that is the biggest party in the parliament has the right to nominate a new prime minister," Sunai said.

But it was not clear that Mr. Somchai would have full party support. A party faction threatened to boycott the election, because its members saw Mr. Somchai as too divisive. He is the brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup two years ago.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, says the split appeared to be a power struggle between factions.

The PPP is largely made up of politicians from the banned Thai Rak Thai Party, which Thaksin led. It has been banned because of voting irregularities.

"The conflict between groups is intensifying," Panitan said. "TRT was a composition of different faction groups under the leadership of one man - Thaksin and his no-nonsense rule. But since his departure from politics, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for these power groups to hold together."

PPP sources told journalists the differences had been settled.

Thailand has been gripped by political tension for months as anti-government protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy called for Samak's resignation. They accuse him acting on behalf of Thaksin.

The former prime minister fled to Britain last month during a corruption trial.

Thaksin remains immensely popular among rural and poor voters. But the urban middle class considers him corrupt and authoritarian.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Thaksin after he failed to appear to face charges over a loan to Burma's military government that prosecutors say would have benefited his telecommunications business.

And on Wednesday, a special Supreme Court will issue a verdict in the first corruption case against Thaksin. He is accused of using his influence to enable his wife to buy land through a government agency.

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