Combative and charismatic right-winger Samak Sundaravej has been elected prime minister by Thailand’s parliament as the country returns to a representative, civilian government.
An ally of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the 72-year-old has vowed to push for his return from exile. A former Bangkok governor and popular TV chef, Samak is currently under investigation for alleged corruption and is appealing a separate conviction for defamation.
Thaksin was forced into exile after a bloodless military coup in September 2006. Samak’s People Power Party, which has formed a ruling coalition with five smaller parties, aims to secure an amnesty for Thaksin and his allies, all banned from politics for five years.
Opinion polls reveal that, although most Thais are keen to see civilian rule resume, fewer than half are happy with the election of Samak, who is viewed as belligerent and uncompromising.