Thai PM Ousted Over TV Cooking Show Decides Not to Contest Ruling

Thailand's ousted prime minister has abandoned his bid for re-election and will give up his leadership of the country's ruling party, an aide said Friday.

The announcements came after Samak Sundarvej's People's Power Party announced earlier it was abandoning its bid to reinstall Samak. That surprise decision was a clear sign that Samak was seen by the ruling party as a liability.

A Constitutional Court dismissed Samak Tuesday for violating a conflict-of-interest law by hosting two television cooking shows while in office.

The developments raised hopes of an end to a political crisis that has plagued the country for months.

A coarse politician who has antagonized virtually every Thai institution including the military and the media, Samak has become one of the most divisive characters in Thai politics.

His aide, Teerapon Noprampa, said Samak has decided to resign as head of the ruling party and will not contest a parliamentary vote Wednesday to be re-elected prime minister.

Teerapon said Samak told him to tell "every reporter that he is going to step down from being the party leader and he will not accept the prime ministership."

The abrasive 73-year-old has been the focus of massive protests by an anti-government group, the People's Alliance for Democracy, whose occupation of the Government House has increased fears of instability, economic chaos and even a military coup.

Spokesman Kuthep Saikrajang said the ruling party has short-listed three candidates to replace Samak — acting Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, Justice Minister Sompong Amornwiwat and Finance Minister Surapong Seubwonglee.

He did not say when the party will decide on the final candidate to contest the vote in Parliament.

Samak's troubles began soon after he took office in February when the People's Alliance for Democracy — made up of the urban elite — began protesting his appointment, saying he won the December election by manipulating illiterate rural voters.

Thousands of alliance members stormed and occupied the Government House on Aug. 26. They say they will not leave until it is clear that Samak or his cronies will not return to office. They did not immediately comment on the latest development.

Somchai, the acting prime minister, said a state of emergency in Bangkok will not be lifted until the protesters leave the Government House, which houses the prime minister's office.

The protesters call Samak a pawn of disgraced former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup following massive street protests they led in 2006. It was Thailand's 18th coup since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

The People's Power Party has 233 lawmakers in the 480-seat Parliament, but 10 are disqualified from voting, leaving it 18 short of a majority. The other five parties in the coalition control 83 seats, while the opposition Democrat Party has 164 seats.

The parliament tried to convene earlier Friday to elect Samak's replacement but had to be adjourned after the session was boycotted by the coalition partners.