Thai Premier Ousted Over Stints on Cooking Show

By Ambika Ahuja
Associated Press
Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BANGKOK, Sept. 9 -- Thailand's prime minister was forced out of office Tuesday after a court ruled that he had broken a conflict-of-interest law by hosting a TV cooking show.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's supporters immediately vowed to bring him back to power, leaving Thailand in the political crisis that has virtually paralyzed the government, spooked the financial markets and scared away tourists.

Chat Chonlaworn, head of the Constitutional Court, said the Cabinet must also resign, but it will stay for now as a caretaker government.

"The defendant has violated Article 267 of the constitution, and his position as prime minister has ended," said Chat, the head of the nine-judge panel, explaining that the ruling meant that Samak himself was immediately removed from office.

The senior deputy prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, temporarily assumes the prime minister's duties. He is the brother-in-law of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Parliament will meet Friday to vote on a new prime minister, and all parties can nominate candidates.

The court ruling, broadcast live on TV and radio, was greeted with loud cheers from Samak's opponents, who have occupied his office compound since Aug. 26 to demand his resignation. The People's Alliance for Democracy said it would stay put at least until the vote.

If Samak or anyone tied to his patron, Shinawatra, is chosen, the occupation will continue, alliance spokesman Suriyasai Katasila said.

Samak, 73, a self-proclaimed foodie, hosted a popular cooking show for seven years before becoming prime minister. But he also made several appearances as a guest host after taking office, breaking a constitutional prohibition on private employment while in office.

The verdict provided a new twist to political uncertainty that began in early 2006 when the alliance -- a group of royalists, urban residents and union activists -- accused then-Prime Minister Thaksin of corruptions. Relentless demonstrations led by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and four others led to a military coup that ousted Thaksin.

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