Thai ruling party picks Thaksin in-law for PM

BANGKOK Mon Sep 15, 2008 12:13pm IST

Thailand's acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat gestures during a news conference at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters in Bangkok September 14, 2008. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Thailand's acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat gestures during a news conference at the Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters in Bangkok September 14, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's ruling People Power Party (PPP) nominated a brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra as its pick for prime minister on Monday, antagonising protesters who accuse the government of being a puppet of the ousted leader.

Somchai Wongsawat, 61, has been acting prime minister since last week, when the Constitutional Court fired Samak Sundaravej -- also seen as a Thaksin proxy -- for hosting cooking shows on commercial television while in office.

Parliament is due to vote on his nomination on Wednesday.

The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has occupied the prime minister's official compound for the past three weeks in a bid to unseat the PPP, said it had no doubts that Thaksin would be pulling the strings from London, where he is in exile.

"We all know who Somchai is. Samak was just a nominee but Somchai is the real actor linked to Thaksin's family," PAD leader Somsak Kosaisuk told reporters. "We will not give him the benefit of the doubt or give him a honeymoon period."

Somchai's ties to Thaksin -- his wife is Thaksin's younger sister -- led to frequent cries of nepotism during his time as the top civil servant at the Justice Ministry. He denies the accusation, noting he got the job before Thaksin came to power.

As acting premier, Somchai lifted a state of emergency at the weekend that Samak had imposed two weeks ago after a bloody street battle between the PAD and a pro-government protest group. One man was killed and dozens injured in the fighting.

The army ignored the state of emergency, refusing to use force to evict the PAD from the prime minister's compound.

The stock market has fallen about 25 percent since the PAD launched its anti-Samak street campaign in May. Analysts said tourism-related shares were benefiting on Monday from the removal of emergency rule.

The revitalised protests by the PAD, whose campaign against Thaksin led to his removal in a September 2006 coup, have paralysed government at a time of stuttering growth and soaring inflation.

The motley group of businessmen, activists and academics paint themselves as champions of cleaner government and defence of the monarchy. They also advocate a return to appointed government, saying popular democracy is swayed by money.

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