Heat rising as Thailand's PM hangs on

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The Independent Online

Thailand's prime minister - a skilled and celebrated chef with a taste for spicy food - has vowed not to resign ahead of court ruling that could raise the temperature in his political kitchen and force him from power.

A special court in Bangkok is tomorrow due to rule on whether Samak Sundaravej breached the country's constitution by hosting a television cooking show several months after he was sworn in as premier. If it does, it is likely that Mr Samat will have to stand down, plunging Thailand into yet more political uncertainty.

Mr Samak clearly sees nothing wrong with mixing food with politics. He told the court that he had not acted unconstitutionally and used his weekly address to the nation to insist that he was not leaving office. "I will remain as prime minister," he said.

Having survived street demonstrations, a hostile media and disgruntled senior military officers, it would be ironic if the prime minister was forced from office over his cooking show, Tasting, Grumbling, which featured Mr Samak preparing his favourite recipes and ranting on his chosen bugbear topics.

First aired in 2000, his show became a staple for Thai viewers with an interest in food who tuned in to see the prime minister with an apron wrapped around his broad stomach creating dishes such as Thai curry, soups and salads. The show also followed him on shopping trips to Bangkok's famous markets for fresh ingredients.

The show stopped broadcasting in April this year, two months after Mr Samak became prime minister, but his association with cooking continued. As premier he took his love of food on the road and served special chicken to Thai soldiers involved in a border dispute with Cambodia and cooked a traditional dish of stewed chicken and rice to Thai athletes waiting to participate in the Beijing Olympics.

But while Mr Samak's recipes have been applauded, the premier may not be to everyone's taste. Seen as an ally of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Mr Samak's government has in recent weeks been rocked by demonstrations by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a business-led group whose actions effectively forced Mr Thaksin from office two years ago.

Last week, confronted by thousands of demonstrators protesting outside various government buildings and by street battles between pro and anti-government crowds in which one person was killed, Mr Samak declared a state of emergency.

Experts believe a ruling against Mr Samak will not end Thailand's turmoil, even in the very short term. The 73-year-old could return as prime minister as long his six party coalition holds together and continues to choose him as its leader. One of the coalition ministers, Chaiya Sasomsap, recently survived such as removal from office - standing down as health minister after a court disqualified him on account of his wife's share portfolio and then returning just weeks later as minister for commerce.

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