09/19/2008, 00.00
THAILAND
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New prime minister urging unity but political row not going away

by Weena Kowitwanij
Prime Minister Somchai takes oath of office before the king, pledging to work with “honesty, dedication and morality” for the greater good of the country. Opposition continues its occupation of the government compound in the capital and rejects any head of government from the ranks of the People’s Power Party.
Bangkok (AsiaNews) – Thailand’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, wants to promote dialogue with leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in order to end the opposition party’s long protest campaign which has included occupying the government compound for the last four months.

Yesterday the new prime minister, known for his mild manners and conciliatory attitude, received his mandate from the hands of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, pledging allegiance to the country’s institutions and crown.

During the ceremony he said that in keeping with his own values he would rule with “honesty, dedication and morality.”

Without denying his party’s differences with PAD or the gravity of the country’s problems, the prime minister wants to start a dialogue based on mutual respect and solidarity in order to recreate an atmosphere of reconciliation in the country.

“We need mutual forgiveness and everyone’s generous help,” he said. “We are facing many problems. For this reason my actions will focus on the welfare of the country as a whole and on its development.”

As a final point he said that “if we do not walk side by side,” it will be hard to solve the country’s problems. “The government’s duty is to run the country but it is every Thai’s duty to work for unity and mutual help.”

Now the ball is PAD’s camp. Opposition leaders must decide whether to pursue their confrontational strategy or come to some form of agreement and adopt a more conciliatory approach.

As a result of the confrontation of the last few weeks foreign investors have fled Thailand—the longer the political stalemate remains unresolved, the longer the crisis will last.

In the last few hours Mr Somchi and PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul have spoken by phone, but what the two told each other has not been reported. It appears though that the latter has insisted on his party’s veto against a prime minister picked from the ranks of the People’s Power Party.

More optimistically some Thais would like to see the PAD carry the day in parliament, thus putting an end to the occupation of the government compound. Others would like to see Premier Somchai given the time to present his agenda for the country. Still more want PAD to implement its ‘Prachapiwat’ plan to improve the politics of the nation. Under this scheme voters would be able to elect 30 per cent of all lawmakers whilst the other 70 per cent would be appointed by the parties, something that according to a large number of Thais would be in violation of the constitution.

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