David Longstreath/AP
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delivers government policy speech Tuesday, Dec. 30,
2008, at Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)

Delayed by Renewed Protests, Thai Prime Minister Gives First Speech

December 30, 2008 11:27 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva gave his first speech today, which was postponed due to antigovernment demonstrators who surrounded the Parliament building Monday.

PM Addresses Legislature at Foreign Ministry Building

In his speech, Abhisit said he will focus on the country’s economic woes and try to heal the deeply divided nation, which has endured months of bitter political protest.

The Thai legislature’s opening session was delayed on Monday by “red shirts,” protesters who support ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who saw the government they supported end on Dec. 2 when a court ruled that it had engaged in electoral fraud. The protests come on the heels of months-long demonstrations by their opponents, the “yellow shirts”: anti-Thaksin protesters who had barricaded the prime minister’s office and shut down Bangkok’s airports.

“We will aim to bring Thailand back to unity and help the country weather economic hardship,” Abhisit said to lawmakers, who had relocated to the foreign ministry due to protests at the Parliament building, according to Bloomberg. He predicted that the country could see the number of unemployed individuals double to 1 million, as its tourism and export sectors struggle.

He also said his government plans “urgent measures” for “stimulating the economy.”

Background: Thai King Asks New Government for Peace, Stability

Earlier this month, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej swore in Thailand’s new cabinet and the country’s third leader in four months, asking both to bring peace and order to the embattled country.

“I hope you will be able to carry out your tasks efficiently and make the country run smoothly,” 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej said during the swearing-in of the new Prime Minister and cabinet, according to Al Jazeera English, in an appeal for lawmakers to alleviate the nation’s recent political turmoil.

New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s picks for Cabinet inspired a mixed reaction. The business community rallied behind his selection of former investment banker and Korn Chatikavanij as finance minister. But his choice of former ambassador to the U.S. Kasit Piromya as foreign minister met with disapproval due to Kasit’s support of the antigovernment People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and the questions that it raises about Abhisit’s commitment to reconciling with supporters of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains popular with rural voters.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, a 44-year-old former economist who has the support of only a slim majority in parliament, took the helm as Thailand’s new prime minister on Dec. 15 and faces the challenge of guiding his country through troubled economic times.

But his selection was met with immediate dissent from those who consider him a representative of the military, which was responsible for ousting popularly elected former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled Dec. 2 that Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat leave office after serving for only two and a half months, and ordered that his ruling People’s Power Party be disbanded.
The court decision spurred the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which had been protesting against the government for months, to end all rallies and their occupation of the country’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi International.

Somchai had replaced Samak Sundaravej as prime minister after a court decision booted Samak from office for accepting pay from a TV cooking show he hosted while serving as prime minister. Samak, in turn, had replaced fugitive former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Somchai, the former senior deputy prime minister in Samak’s cabinet, is the brother-in-law of Thaksin.

In November, Thai protesters led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy marched through Bangkok and successfully stopped the parliament from the convening. The office of Thailand’s prime minister had been barricaded since late August.

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