12/17/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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King signs decree, Abhisit Vejjajiva becomes new Thai prime minister

by Weena Kowitwanij
The new premier must confront the economic crisis, tackle unemployment and rebuild peace and social harmony. Business groups, political leaders and army brass pledge themselves to do what is good for the nation and “national unity”.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej signed the royal decree that makes Abhisit Vejjajiva the country’s new prime minister. The 81-year-old monarch signed the notice of appointment that put the Democrat Party leader into the Prime Minister’s Office on live TV in a ceremony that was broadcast across the country. Now the new premier is expected to name the members of his cabinet tomorrow and set the agenda for his government. In so doing he will bring to a close months of political crisis and social unrest.

In a speech to the nation the new prime minister said that “Thailand is the land of the smile, opportunity and the free. [. . .] I will bring back reconciliation on the basis of the rule of law and democracy. [. . .] I will put an end to the conflict. I will push Thailand forward politically and economically.”

The inaugural address highlighted some of the unresolved problems the new leader has to tackle, starting with the deep economic crisis, made worse by the world’s financial meltdown which has negatively impact Thailand’s exports and depressed its agricultural sales.

Plant closures alone have cost a million jobs, and the army of the unemployed should reach 3,000,000 by next year.

The prime minister will also have to pull up his sleeves if he wants to restore social harmony and peace. Never before had Thai society been split so deeply along the red-yellow divide, red being the colour used by supporters of exiled former Primer Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and yellow the colour harboured by supporters of the Popular Alliance for Democracy which led anti-government protest in the last few months.

He’ll also have to get as much support as possible for changes to the constitution and respect for the law and legality.

Last but not lest he will have to rebuild trust and optimism among Thais as well as provide incentives to the economy and to spending.

The profound political crisis the country has recently experienced, which included five prime ministers in just over two years, the occupation of government offices for months, and the blockade of the capital’s two main air terminals, has pushed the ruling political circles and the army brass to close ranks around the themes of “national unity”.

Chuan Leakpai, an advisor to the Democrat Party, urged Abhisit Vejjajiva “to govern with justice” because “the profound divisions in Thai society are a greater danger than the current economic crisis.” Divisions “must be dealt with patience but difficulties can be overcome.”

Representatives of the opposition Pheu Thai Party said that their party “accepted the vote in parliament and were ready to discuss with the new government the report it is scheduled to deliver to the house.”

Business leaders also expressed a desire for appeasement so that the economy could be stimulated. “Everyone wants to live in a country at peace with itself,” said Santi Vilassakdanon, head of Thailand’s Industrial Council. “Greater trust and an economic stimulus are urgent matters.”

Media run by the Royal Thai Army are stressing “unity and harmony”, quoting at length statements by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Channel 5’s Ru Rak Thai programme quoted from the King’s 1950 coronation speech in which he said that he would reign according to the Dharmma or Buddhist teachings, and from another address he gave in 1979 in which he said that everyone has a responsibility to help the country by doing their duty honestly.

In the meantime representatives of the rubber industry in southern Thailand have called on the government to guarantee a floor to rubber prices. In recent weeks the average price for a kilogram of rubber has gone from 70 to 20 baht.

The now ruling Democrat Party will also have to pay attention to the atmosphere of widespread insecurity that is now prevailing in the south.

Dissatisfaction now could turn into new protests that might threaten domestic security.

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