Fresh Thai turmoil as PM is forced out

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The Independent Online

The prime minister of Thailand’s enthusiastic effort to mix food and politics has forced him to stand down from office - throwing his country into yet more turmoil and uncertainty.

A court ruled today that sometime chef Samak Sundaravej had broken the constitution by hosting a television cooking show while he was the country’s premier. The ruling gave Mr Samak no option but to stand down immediately, but his cabinet will stay on in a caretaker position.

“The defendant has violated Article 267 of the constitution, and his position as prime minister has ended,” Chat Chonlaworn, head of a nine-judge panel announced before the court in Bangkok.

But while Mr Samak’s own brand of Asian Fusion may have been forced him from office after serving just nine trouble-strewn months as Thailand’s prime minister, his resignation will likely only add to the country’s immediate political problems.

The party which he heads said it will immediately renominate the 73-year-old as its candidate for prime minister while at the same time anti-government demonstrators said they would continue their protests despite his resignation. “There is no guarantee he will not return in the next few days. So our protest will continue for the time being,” said a spokesman for the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a misleadingly-named group led by businessmen and former military officers..

Mr Samak’s resignation is linked directly to his hosting of a television cooking show called “Tasting, Grumbling” which featured the portly prime minister cooking his favourite Thai dishes and sounding off on chosen topics that irked him. He hosted the show for many years before becoming prime minister and for several months after taking office in late January.

While he argued before the court that he had not broken the constitution because he was not paid by the television company that produced the show, the court believed differently. “His employment at the company can be considered an employment,” said Mr Chat.

The court ruling comes after weeks of demonstrations by anti-government protestors who have taken up positions outside many official buildings, all but paralysing the administration, scaring off tourists and shaking the nation’s stock market. Last week Mr Samak declared a state of emergency and made the military responsible for containing the protests.

The PAD argues that Mr Samak is merely a proxy for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced from office two years ago by a military coup amid widespread allegations of corruption and is now living in exile. Mr Samak has never hidden his links to the ousted prime minister - until recently the owner of Manchester City - but insisted he was not taking orders from him.

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