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Democracy returns to Thailand

  • Story Highlights
  • Thailand's parliament reopens after 16 months of military rule
  • Return to democracy follows elections in December won by People Power Party
  • PPP leader Samak Sundaravej looks set to be chosen as PM of a coalition
  • Former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in coup, faces corruption charges
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BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Thailand's parliament reopened Monday, marking the end of 16 months of military rule and the return of democracy.

Newly elected lawmakers in immaculate white ceremonial uniforms attended the opening in the sumptuous surroundings of the Thai parliament building in Bangkok.

The return of parliamentary rule follows elections in December in which the People Power Party (PPP), the party of deposed Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, won nearly half the seats in the lower house.

Billionaire businessman Thaksin was ousted in a military coup after allegations of widespread corruption in his government. He remains in exile in Britain.

In his absence current PPP leader Samak Sundaravej will probably be announced as the next prime minister at the head of a ruling coalition.

The selection of new prime minister is schedule to take place Friday.

A political veteran of more than 40 years, Samak refused to comment when asked by CNN about the likelihood of him taking over.

According to CNN's Dan Rivers, however, his selection appears a foregone conclusion -- the PPP has the most seats in parliament, and the support of all but one of the other parties. Video Watch parliament's opening ceremony »

It remains to be seen what role, if any, Thaksin will play in a future government.

He and his family are facing court cases accusing them of massive corruption. When his wife returned to the country earlier this month, she was presented with an arrest warrant by police.

Pojamarn Shinawatra appeared before the Supreme Court and was released on 5 million baht (about $168,000) bail and ordered not to leave the country.

Samak has already said that if he became prime minister he would amend the constitution to allow the deposed leader to return to Thai politics.

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Analysts are uncertain, however, how much influence Thaksin -- who won three elections and is still immensely popular in his homeland -- could exert from abroad.

"He has a lot of influence right now because he's behind the scenes. He's probably providing cash flow but once they have power in their hands they will be more independent of him," Chris Baker, an author on Thai politics, told CNN. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Dan Rivers contributed to this report.

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