Thailand's Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers Survive No-Confidence Vote

Thailand's prime minister and seven of his Cabinet ministers held off a parliamentary challenge Friday as street protesters demanded the coalition government's resignation.

Critics accuse Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's government of mismanaging the ailing Thai economy, failing to defend the country's revered monarchy and of being a proxy for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Samak has denied the allegations.

The opposition's motion against Samak was rejected Friday in the 470-member lower house of Parliament by a vote of 280-162, with the rest of the lawmakers abstaining or absent. The lawmakers rejected no-confidence motions against the other Cabinet members by similar margins.

The results were largely expected because Samak's six-party coalition, led by his People's Power Party, controls two-thirds of the seats in the lower house.

But several politicians thought that some of the ministers performed poorly in the three-day debate and should be replaced.

"Some ministers should be replaced due to problems with their qualifications," said Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party.

Banharn Silpa-archa, leader of the Chart Thai Party, a member of Samak's coalition, also suggested a Cabinet reshuffle would be appropriate.

But it's unlikely such a shift would satisfy protesters led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have rallied on the streets of Bangkok for a month. The group has occupied the area around Government House, the seat of Thailand's government, since breaking through a police cordon last week.

"The government may have won inside the Parliament, but they may still lose outside the house's chamber," said Sombat Thamrongtanyawong, a professor at the National Institute of Development Administration. "After the voting, the spotlight is now back on protesters who will likely step up the pressure on the street."

The protesters allege that Samak's government is interfering with corruption charges against Thaksin, a tycoon-turned-politician who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and accuse Samak of acting as his proxy. Thaksin is barred from political office until 2012.

The alliance led mass demonstrations before the coup demanding Thaksin step down for alleged corruption and abuse of power. The alliance leaders have said they will not be satisfied until Samak's entire government steps down.

Samak's opponents both inside and outside parliament also have accused him of yielding Thai land to neighboring Cambodia.

Samak was accused of bypassing Parliament last week when he endorsed Cambodia's application for UNESCO World Heritage Site status for a disputed 11th-century temple along the countries' mutual border. Although it was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962, many Thais still claim the temple as theirs.

"The Preah Vihear temple is part of a wounded history of Thailand and Cambodia," said Charnvit Kasetsiri, a historian at Bangkok's Thammasat University. "It was used to stir up a nationalist movement in the past and is now threatening to inflame politics again."

Equally volatile are questions concerning former Prime Minister Thaksin, a political ally of Samak.

An anti-graft body recommended Friday that Thaksin be prosecuted for two cases of alleged corruption.

A lawyer for the Assets Examination Committee, established after Thaksin was deposed, said the two cases involve a government loan to Myanmar for communications satellite services and the procurement of rubber tree saplings.

Sitichok Sricharaen said the agency has filed lawsuits with the Supreme Court and that the court would decide whether to accept the cases.

Thaksin's legal representatives could not be reached for comment Friday, but Thaksin has consistently denied any wrongdoing. The former prime minister already faces several other corruption charges.

Thaksin on Thursday denied any connection to an alleged bribery attempt by a legal team that works for him.

The Supreme Court sentenced Thaksin's defense attorney Pichit Chuenban, along with two members of his legal team, to six months in jail Wednesday, after one of them offered a box containing 2 million baht — $60,000 — to a court official, a court statement said. The three denied any intent to bribe the official.

A panel of three Supreme Court judges found the three had subverted the judicial process with their action.