Page last updated at 09:20 GMT, Monday, 28 January 2008

Thaksin ally elected as Thai PM

Thailand's parliament has elected a new prime minister - restoring civilian leadership 16 months after the military seized power in a bloodless coup.

Samak Sundaravej, a supporter of ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra, defeated his closest rival by 310 votes to 163.

Mr Samak's People Power Party (PPP) won the largest share of the vote in a general election held last December - the first since the 2006 coup.

It has formed a governing coalition with five smaller parties.

Mr Samak's appointment will be formally approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the next few days.

"There will be no celebration. I will continue with my normal life," the 72-year-old said.

"From now on, I have many more responsibilities on my shoulders. It won't be fun but I have to accept them."

Thaksin's return?

Mr Samak began his political career in the 1960s and has served as a cabinet minister several times - including a spell as interior minister in a 1970s military government.

A former Bangkok governor and a popular TV chef, the veteran lawmaker is regarded as combative but charismatic.

"He comes across as belligerent, aggressive and uncompromising," said Thitinan Pongsidhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University.

"But many people find him affable. He's kind of like your uncle. He's folksy, and not afraid to be a bit profane," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Samak is under investigation for alleged corruption and is appealing against a separate conviction for defamation.

The BBC's Andrew Harding, in Bangkok, says Thailand's slow journey back towards a fully-functioning democracy is likely to be a bumpy one.

An elected parliament last met in Thailand in February 2006, before Mr Thaksin called a snap election.

The polls were later annulled and shortly afterwards the military seized power, installing an appointed legislature.

December's general election was aimed at returning the country to democratic rule.

Analysts believe the PPP's victory and Mr Samak's election as prime minister will pave the way for Mr Thaksin to end his self-imposed exile and return to Thailand.

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