Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is the new prime minister of Thailand. This morning the Thai parliament in a special session picked the opposition leader who beat by 37 votes rival Pracha Promnok, a former policeman supported by the parties that belonged to the old coalition government. Abhisit Vejjajiva, who will be Thailand’s fifth prime minister in just two years, got 235 votes against 198 for Pracha Promnok, head of the Puea Pandin party.
Born in Newcastle, Great Britain, on 3 August 1964, Abhisit Vejjajiva is an Oxford graduate in political science and economics. At 44 he is among the youngest political leaders in the country to become prime minister. In 1995 he served as spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office. In 1999 he became Democrat Party deputy chief, rising to the leadership in 2005.
His priorities now include organising the ASEAN summit, originally scheduled for this month but postponed to February because of threats to public order. He will also have to tackle the country’s economic crisis, made worse by months of political stalemate and bring back trust in the country’s institutions.
Over the next few days the new speaker of parliament, Chai Chidchob, will submit to the king the results of the vote and get the sovereign’s approval to have the new prime minister form the new government.
Outgoing Prime Minister Chaowarat Chanvorakul, who heads the transitional government backed by the Pheu Thai Party, which replaced the People Power Party (PPP) banned by the Supreme Court earlier this month on corruption charges, will try his last chance, that of dissolving parliament before the king picks the date for the new government and new elections.
Exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has accused the army of using the judges to overthrow the government, calling on the military to stay out of the country’s politics.
In the last few days members of the former government have accused the leaders of the armed forces of not intervening to block protests in the capital. Former PPP leaders have said that the army backed a “stealth coup” to overthrow the majority elected democratically by the people.
The election of the new prime minister has unleashed protests by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who have set up road blocks near parliament, broken the windows of cars parked nearby and laid siege to members of parliament inside the building.
For the past two years Thailand has been at the centre of an endless political crisis. In September 2006 the military threw out then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accusing him of corruption and forcing him into exile in London.
In January 2008 Samak Sundaravej was elected prime minister. He led the PPP, a party made up mostly of former members of Thaksin’sThai Rak Thai Party. He had to quit last September over payments he received for taking part in a TV cooking show.
In the meantime the leaders of the opposition People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) took over government buildings in Bangkok demanding the resignation of the government, the dissolution of parliament and new elections.
On 17 September the ruling party picked Thaksin’s brother-in-love Somchai Wongsawat as the new prime minister, provoking a fresh round of protests around the country which turned violent. The worst incidents took place on 7 October when two people died as a result of clashes between anti-government protesters and police.
On 2 December the Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the ruling People’s Power Party, and two other smaller partiers in the former coalition government.
Support for Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party is found primarily in the southern part of the country and among middle class voters in the capital.
The new prime minister is closely linked to Bangkok’s Conservative establishment, the army and the Royal Palace.
Exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the dissolved PPP have instead strong support in northern Thailand and among rural voters, but are loathed by the country’s cultural elite and bourgeoisie.