Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is facing his greatest political challenge to date as protests mount over alleged corruption and a controversial stock sale. One cabinet minister has resigned as a result, but the prime minister has vowed to remain in office.
Thailand's culture minister, Uraiwan Thienthong, resigned Friday saying the political situation is not good and as a minister she had to uphold the ethics of governance.
The minister was a member of a major faction of Mr. Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party that is increasingly at odds with the prime minister.
The resignation came one day after scores of academics and political activists issued an appeal for the prime minister to resign, saying that after a series of financial scandals he had lost the legitimacy to govern.
However, Mr. Thaksin dismissed the calls Friday, telling reporters he would continue in office.
He says this is nothing and he will continue to work. This is democracy, he says, it is normal.
Criticism has been rising in recent months over allegations of corruption in virtually every Thai ministry. The public outcry intensified after the controversial sale two weeks ago of nearly two billion dollars worth of stock in Shin Corporation, a telecommunications conglomerate founded by Mr. Thaksin.
Mr. Thaksin's children, who owned the shares, were accused of insider trading and evading taxes on the sale.
A family spokesman, tax expert Suvarn Valaisathien, told reporters Wednesday the transaction was legal.
"It is the rule of the tax law which has been enforced for 20 years that [in the] sale of shares through the stock market, all capital gains is exempt from personal income tax," he said.
The Thai Security and Exchange Commission Thursday ruled the sale was tax-exempt, but said it was investigating other related charges.
A professor at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, Thitinan Pongsuthirak, says the deal may have been technically legal, but the public sees it differently.
"What gets the Thai public is that there is a double standard here," he said. "More and more Thais are having to pay higher and higher taxes but when it comes to the prime minister and his huge deal, there is no tax."
Opponents, led by media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, are to hold a mass rally Saturday in Bangkok demanding the resignation of the Thaksin government.
Professor Thitinan says the rally is the culmination of a series of demonstrations held around the country in recent months.
"This is now a coalition to overthrow Thaksin that has been joined by all kinds of groups that have been disaffected with Thaksin for a long time. So it is not just going to end on the fourth [of February]. It will most likely extend beyond the fourth," he said.
Mr. Thaksin, one of Thailand's wealthiest men, came to power five years ago in a landslide election but before assuming office he had to fight charges that he had illegally concealed some of his vast wealth.
He sold his business interests to family members before running for office, but has been plagued by charges that he remains in control of the family fortune and has used his political position to enlarge it.