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Constitution takes center stage in Thai power struggle

At issue are clauses that could shut down the popular former prime minister's party.

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The coalition government led by supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is attempting to push through changes to the Constitution drafted by the Army after the 2006 coup, sparking a renewed political fight in this polarized Southeast Asian nation.

Last December, the People Power Party (PPP), formed by Mr. Thaksin's allies after a junta-appointed court dissolved his Thai Rak Thai Party, surprised the military with a convincing election victory on the back of strong rural support. Yet with new clauses written into the Constitution by the Army last year, the PPP, with two coalition partners, is once again facing dissolution for alleged election fraud.

In response, the PPP-led government is trying to quickly approve constitutional changes that would prevent it from being dissolved. But opposition groups instrumental in ousting Thaksin two years ago have accused the government of abusing its power, setting the stage for a showdown that some fear may lead to street clashes or possibly even another putsch.

"The Constitution fight is a new battleground in the same conflict," says Thitinan Pongsudhirak, head of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University. "The crisis hasn't changed. It's the same thing, just a different setting."

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