Thai opposition celebrates victory after Thaksin steps down

Opposition activists were rallying Friday to celebrate the ouster of Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and map out a strategy to rid the country of his legacy of alleged corruption and erosion of democracy. People started arriving Friday morning for the demonstration near the Grand Palace , called by the People's Alliance for Democracy, and expected to continue into the early hours of Saturday.

The gathering, expected to draw thousands, followed Thaksin's announcement that he would "take a rest" and not serve when the next government is formed, probably next month, and his appointment of a caretaker premier in the interim. As the celebration began, the main opposition Democrat Party warned Thaksin not to "pull strings" from behind the scenes in the new government or he would face further popular protests.

"If he takes a rest doesn't use his political power beyond his status it shouldn't be a problem. But if he rests, still uses his power, interfering with various matters ... that could be risky because that would mean he would have power above the prime minister," party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said in an interview with a local radio station. Thaksin announced Tuesday that he would step down following a Sunday election that his Thai Rak Thai  Thai Love Thai party won, but which drew an opposition boycott and millions of abstentions as protest votes against him.

"Thaksin cannot be involved in the leadership of the country, otherwise his break from politics will be pointless," said alliance spokesman Parnthep Pourpongpan. Thaksin has appointed Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit, a close colleague, as acting prime minister until a new government can be formed. Thaksin made it clear that he was not formally resigning, but just taking a leave of absence.

Since Chitchai is not a member of Parliament, he is legally unable to hold on to the top job when the body meets to name Thaksin's successor. With control of Parliament assured following Sunday's general election, however, Thai Rak Thai will name the next prime minister.

Press reports Friday said factions within Thai Rak Thai, as well as a number of leading businessmen, favored Somkid Jatusripitak, the current deputy prime minister and commerce minister. Somkid, 52, has long been entrusted with directing economic policy for Thaksin. However, he suffers from health problems he recently had an angioplasty and may not want the job. Thaksin himself has vowed that his party will continue pursuing the policies that characterized his five years in power.

Thaksin's critics want to jettison his policies promoting privatization, free trade agreements and a CEO-style administration. Thaksin, who denies any wrongdoing, also has been accused of corruption, cronyism and mishandling a bloody Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand .

Thaksin told reporters Thursday he wasn't involved in politics anymore and just wanted to rest. Thaksin's party received 51 percent of the popular vote in the 398 constituencies, while 33 percent of the ballots were abstentions, with the "no vote" option marked. The commission has scheduled new polls for April 23 for 39 constituencies where a winner could not be certified because voter turnout minimums were not met. The prospect that the fresh votes may still not decide the races have raised the possibility that not all seats in Parliament may be filled within the legally required 30-day time limit, which could stall the formation of a new government, reports the AP.

N.U.