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Thailand struggles with constitutional impasse

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Apr 7: Thailand's ruling party wants to invoke the ''spirit'' of the constitution rather than its exact letter to break a deadlock caused by the opposition's election boycott, Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon said today.

However, speaking to foreign reporters two days after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stepped aside to help solve the crisis, he failed to explain how to get around a rule that says parliament must be full for a government to be formed.

''None of us believe the constitution was planned to bring deadlock to the functioning of the country,'' Kantathi said.

But a required first meeting of parliament within 30 days of the April 2 election would probably not happen, he said.

''The timeframe should not be delayed by too long. We hope that parliament can be convened within the first part of May,'' he said.''The timeline remains sometime in May, or at the very, very latest spill into June.'' The three main opposition parties, led by the Democrats, sparked the mess by boycotting Sunday's snap poll, which Thaksin had hoped would neutralise mass street protests against him.

By-elections are to held on April 23 in the 39 empty seats -- 38 of which are in strong Democrat country -- but with all three opposition parties vowing to extend their boycott, the run-offs are unlikely to return a winner second time round.

In stepping down, Thaksin, 56, made much of the need for ''national reconciliation'' and to avoid spoiling the 60-year Diamond jubilee of revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 78, the world's longest-reigning monarch, on June 12-13.

Analysts say his use of the ''royal card'' puts pressure on the opposition to make a similarly significant gesture towards ending the crisis before the celebrations, for which the country has been preparing for years. ''ON A BREAK'' Thaksin, a telecoms billionaire who won Thailand's largest-ever majority only a year ago, says he is taking a rest from politics.

Newspapers have reported he is about to head to London with his family for a holiday.

However, Thaksin wants to retain leadership of his Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, leading many of his enemies to suspect he will still pull the strings from behind the scenes.

''Although Thaksin will no longer be the prime minister, he is still the leader of the party and will bring in his nominee to implement his policies, which we won't accept,'' said Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the street movement against Thaksin.

Sondhi's campaigners, who accused Thaksin of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power, will hold another protest in front of the golden-spired Grand Palace today, although the theme will be celebrating -- rather than urging -- Thaksin's departure.

The Democrats say they will return to the parliamentary fray only when Thailand has a new constitution that guarantees more limits on the powers of the prime minister, to prevent what they call another ''Thaksin regime''.

Countering such calls, Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai said it had already started to look into amending the 1997 charter, already the 16th in Thailand's 74 years of democracy.

After a constitutional brainstorming session, deputy leader Bhokin Bhalakula said 100 Thais from all walks of life, but 20 of them law experts, should be able to hammer out a new constitution within 15 months.

''Members of the political parties should be excluded, and when the first draft is made we will propose it to the public,'' Bhokin told reporters.


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