Thailand's army chief urged the caretaker government on Thursday to lift a state of emergency and backed a proposal to form a government of national unity that would include all the country's parties.
"It is time to lift the state of emergency," army commander Gen Anupong Paochinda told reporters, noting he had conveyed that view to Thailand's interim leadership. "Keeping it in place will damage the country's economy."
Former Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who was removed by the courts on Tuesday, had imposed a state of emergency in the capital Bangkok on Sept 2 after violent clashes between his supporters and opponents.
Samak was ordered to resign on Tuesday by Thailand's Constitutional Court, which found him guilty of violating the constitution by receiving money for televised appearances on cooking shows. His ouster was the latest political embarrassment for Thailand, where anti-government protesters have occupied the prime minister's office compound since Aug 26. Protesters initially demanded Samak's resignation and now say they'll stay put until a suitable replacement is appointed.
Parliament is due to vote on Friday on a new prime minister, sparking heated debate among the six-party ruling coalition and the opposition. Samak's People's Power Party has vowed to re-nominate him to the post _ a move unlikely to find favor with all members of the coalition.
Anupong threw his support behind an opposition proposal to form a national unity government in which all political parties join together.
"A national unity government is the best way to end the ongoing political crisis," Anupong told reporters. "Politicians should sacrifice personal interests ... for the sake of peace and national interests."
Anupong's comments were likely to fuel speculation of a possible coup to end the crisis, despite his repeated denials of any military intervention.
Democracy in Thailand has been interrupted by 18 military coups since the country became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. The most recent was in 2006, when the army ousted then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who recently fled to Britain to escape corruption charges.
The anti-Samak movement, known as the People's Alliance for Democracy, calls Samak a puppet of Thaksin and accuses him of running the government as a proxy for Thaksin while he is in exile. Thaksin's ouster came after months of street protests by the same alliance.
In the end, it was not the protesters that brought down the 73-year-old Samak. A court ruled that appearances Samak made on a popular TV cooking show, "Tasting and Complaining," after becoming prime minister violated a constitutional prohibition on private employment while in office.
Samak has not appeared in public or made any comment since the court's Tuesday ruling.
Samak has repeatedly been a lightning rod for controversy during his four decades in politics and is once again the focus of deep divisions in Thai politics.
The protesters say they will to continue their siege of Government House until it is absolutely clear that Samak will not be reappointed prime minister, nor any of his close allies picked. The caretaker Cabinet met Wednesday night to formally assign Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat to serve as acting prime minister until a new one is picked. Somchai is a brother-in-law of Thaksin.