Sakchai Lalit/AP
Abhisit Vejjajiva

Thailand Gets New Leader, But Protests Resume

December 15, 2008 05:51 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, the country’s third prime minister in just the past few months, will have to steer the country through troubled economic times.

New PM Faces Tough Job


Abhisit Vejjajiva, a 44-year-old former economist who will have the support of only a slim majority in parliament, took the helm as Thailand’s new prime minister on Monday.

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.

Abhisit plans to form a cabinet by Friday
and to hand in a government policy statement, required to legally assume his position, by the end of the month, according to the Bangkok Post.

Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s diplomatic passport was revoked on Friday and his regular passport may be taken away. Thaksin is in exile fleeing a Thai court’s ruling that he engaged in conflict of interest.

Background: Thai antigovernment protests; court bans PM Somchai

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.

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.

Elections for a new prime minister were to be held on Dec. 8, and Deputy Prime Minister Chavarat Chamvirakul served as the country’s interim leader.
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.

Despite the end of the protests, it was clear that the conflict between the antigovernment demonstrators and Thaksin’s supporters had not come to any resolution.

“The court decision left Thais wondering whether anyone can emerge to lead a country dangerously adrift as the occupation of two airports cripples the nation’s once-lucrative tourism industry, rival camps or protesters threaten each other, and rumors circulate of a looming military coup,” reported the Times.

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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