Thai King Asks New Government for Peace, Stability
“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 Monday’s 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.
The revered king, who has no formal role in government, has mostly stayed out of the public eye during its recent political turmoil, and did not appear for his regular birthday address on Dec. 5 due to illness.
“If you work well, the country will be in good order and it will be a blessing to the country. The country needs good care. … Without it, public service will not be good enough,” he said, according to The Nation newspaper. “If you can ensure happiness and public order, the country will go ahead well just like what all Thais want.”
New Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s picks for Cabinet has inspired a mixed reaction. The business community has 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. His choice for deputy prime minister to oversee security matters, Democrat party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, has been accused of corruption.
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. On Monday, about 200 government supporters chanted “Abhisit, army nominee” while obstructing access to parliament and smashing car windows belonging to MPs of his Democrat Party.
Outgoing Finance Minister Suchart Thada-Thamrongvech has predicted that the economy will shrink 0.5-1.0 percent in the first quarter of 2009 from the year before, and that the country is nearing recession. Abhisit said last week that he plans to spark economic growth through increased government spending.
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 ruling also stated that two other political parties from the governing coalition must be dissolved for engaging in fraud during last December’s election.
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.