Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Vejjajiva is Thai’s new PM

British born, Eton and Oxford educated, Abhisit Vejjajiva has become Thailand’s new prime minister after he won a tense parliamentary vote.
Mr Abhisit, who is known as “Mark Vejj” to his British friends, was a contemporary of London mayor Boris Johnson at school and university and a year above Tory leader David Cameron. He is Thailand’s fourth prime minister this year.
There have been two weeks of furious negotiation for the votes of MPs. There are widespread allegations that the army was responsible for organising or coercing Mr Abhisit’s supporters.
Last night MPs were kept in Bangkok hotels under close supervision and without their mobile telephones, local newspapers reported, to prevent them from being persuaded at the last moment to change sides.
Political organisers were reportedly offering around £1 million to buy an MP’s vote, or even merely to persuade him to take “sick leave” not turn up to parliament.
The vacancy at the top of Thai politics arose after a court dismissed the former prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, and dissolved the then ruling People Power Party two weeks ago.
Mr Abhisit based his pitch for the top job on a pledge to repair Thailand’s economy, which was badly damaged when protesters occupied Bangkok’s airports for over a week ar the beginning of this month.
The Democrat party leader trained as an economist before becoming a Thai MP at the age of 27. “We will restore confidence within the next two or three months,” he said on the eve of the vote. But Mr Abhisit did not condemn the airport occupations, which stranded 350,000 travellers, as they were taking place two weeks ago.
Economists believe the protests may have knocked several whole percentage points off Thailand’s economy due to lost tourism, lost exports and damage to investor confidence.
Critics are now demanding Mr Abhisit punish the protest’s leaders, one of whom is a senior MP in his own party. Mr Abhisit has seen his fortunes change dramatically since he was heavily defeated in a general election a year ago.
The contest was won by the People Power Party (PPP) who were supporters of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Thaksin was overthrown in a military coup in 2006.
Mr Thaksin remains at the heart of Thailand’s political chaos. He is adored by the poor majority for his policies of cheap health care and cheap credit.
But he is despised by the middle class and the elite in the royal palace and army, who accuse him and his allies of corruption and disloyalty to the monarchy. During its tenure of less than one year the PPP government saw two prime ministers dismissed by the courts.
Meanwhile anti-Thaksin “yellow-shirt” protesters overran and camped out in Government House and then took over Bangkok’s airports.
As MPs voted for Thailand’s new leader today around 100 pro-Thaksin “red-shirt” protesters gathered outside. They claim that the army and the courts have united to pull off a second “coup in disguise” against Mr Thaksin and his allies. “We are not going to accept this. (Abhisit) did not win the election,” one speaker declared. “We will blockade the gates of Parliament so they (MPs) won’t be able to come out.”
Their protest quickly fizzled out. But with the country still bitterly divided most analysts expect that Thailand’s political turbulence will continue.

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