September 8, 2008 / 9:38 PM / 10 years ago

Thai PM faces cooking show judgment day

BANGKOK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej faces a court ruling on his participation in a cooking show on Tuesday widely expected to force him from office although his exit is unlikely to heal political splits that have divided Thailand for three years.

The court is expected to give its ruling at 2 p.m. (0700 GMT). Samak and his cabinet will be forced to resign if it decides he violated conflict of interest rules by hosting the television cooking shows while in office.

A government source said Samak expected the Constitutional Court ruling “to be bad”, but the pugnacious 73-year-old vowed on Monday he would not resign or call a snap election.

“I declare that I will not dissolve parliament. I will not quit. I will fight on,” he told thousands of cheering supporters in the northeastern town of Udon Thani, a stronghold of his seven-month old government.

He has denied any wrongdoing as the star of “Tasting, Grumbling” and “Touring at 6 a.m.”, which he gave up in April, more than two months after becoming prime minister.

“I have done nothing wrong,” Samak told the court on Monday, suggesting the case was politically motivated.

His departure would be likely to satisfy the immediate demands of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a group of royalist businessmen, activists and academics leading a three-month old street campaign to unseat him.

Thousands of PAD supporters have occupied Samak’s official Bangkok compound for two weeks, accusing him of being a puppet of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in exile in London.


The standoff has paralysed government at a time of slowing economic growth and high inflation. It has also scared away visitors to the “Land of Smiles”, with airlines and hotels reporting cancellations as more countries issue travel warnings.

Traders said a ruling against Samak could lift Thai shares, which have fallen more than 20 percent since the PAD campaign began in late May. The main index rose 3.08 percent on Monday, but still lagged behind other Asian markets.

The speed with which the court processed the cooking show case surprised insiders and analysts, although speculation has been mounting about judges finding a short-term solution to the stalemate over the PAD occupation of Government House.

The tension spilt over into bloodshed last week when a man was killed in a street battle between pro- and anti-government groups, trigging a declaration of a state of emergency from Samak that the highly politicised army chose to ignore.

Two years after its removal of Thaksin in a coup, the army has insisted it will not intervene again, but senior officers acknowledge the political crisis has reached a stalemate.

If the deadlock continues or more people are hurt or killed, the crisis could also trigger a move by revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has stepped into several disputes during his six decades on the throne.

In 2006, when Thaksin was facing a prolonged campaign by the PAD, the king summoned the country’s top judges to tell them to resolve the political “mess” after the opposition boycotted a general election, rendering the result void. (Editing by Ed Cropley)

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