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Thai Crisis Shifts to Political Bargaining
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BANGKOK — Thai politics was consumed by hard political bargaining Wednesday, a day after Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was convicted in court and removed from office after receiving money for televised cooking demonstrations.

His party immediately said it would nominate him to succeed himself in office when a new prime minister is chosen Friday. But that support has been weakening and other contenders have emerged from both within and outside the ruling six-party coalition.

Whatever the outcome, there was no sign that a damaging anti-government protest that has spread to students and labor unions was ending.

More than an attack on the sitting government, the protests grow out of deep political and social divides that have hardened over the past three years and threaten the stability of Thailand.

The protesters who are now camped in the mud at Government House represent the latest turn in a long-running struggle between democratic ideals and a traditional, hierarchical society that feels disenfranchised by democratic change.

This time, whatever the outcome of the confrontation, analysts say democracy is likely to suffer.

Mr. Samak’s government was elected last December and asserts that democracy is on its side. But it is an extension of the authoritarian model of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who worked to weaken democratic checks and balances during his five-year tenure.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a coup in September 2006 and is now in London, where he is seeking political asylum to evade corruption cases here that he says are politically motivated. His personality and his money still dominate Thai politics, even from exile, and much of the anger of the protesters is directed at him.

The protesters call themselves the People’s Alliance for Democracy, or P.A.D. But in fact they are raising a cry that goes back more than a century that Thailand is not “ready for democracy.” They want to replace the country’s elected Parliament with a mostly appointed body in which power would run top-down, as it does in traditional Thai society.

“The P.A.D. is a variation of the deep-rooted hierarchical society,” said Thongchai Winichakul, a professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “In a nutshell it’s a kind of distrust of the people.”

He added: “You can find this idea beginning in the late 19th century, when King Chulalongkorn said Thai people do not want democracy, that Thai people trust the king.

“Throughout all the years that kind of idea remained,” Mr. Thongchai said. “‘People are not ready.’”

The protests began in late 2005 as anti-Thaksin demonstrations that paved the way for the coup that ousted him two years ago. They resumed in May after the current pro-Thaksin government took office, and escalated on Aug. 26 with a takeover of the grounds of the prime minister’s office.


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