Tue, Dec 16, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Opposition leader selected as Thai prime minister

AP , BANGKOK

Protesters clash with anti-riot police as they try to block the exit gate of the parliament in Bangkok yesterday. Supporters of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra threw rocks at vehicles leaving the parliamentary compound.

PHOTO: EPA

An opposition leader was chosen as Thailand’s prime minister yesterday in an effort to end months of political turmoil, but the move unleashed new protests by supporters of the previous government who hurled rocks at lawmakers.

Abhisit Vejjajiva — at 44, one of the world’s youngest heads of government — gathered 235 votes against 198 by former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The vote in the lower house of parliament followed six months of instability, with anti-government and anti-Thaksin demonstrations that culminated in a weeklong takeover of Bangkok’s two airports.

The selection of a new prime minister was expected to calm the country’s politics, at least temporarily.

However, several hundred Thaksin supporters tried to block the gates of parliament in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the outcome. Riot police later cleared a path for lawmakers to leave the compound.

The demonstrators hurled rocks at vehicles and abuse at lawmakers inside but most dispersed peacefully, saying that they would gather again later yesterday in the capital’s old historic section.

Following the vote, Abhisit — an Oxford-educated politician from an upper class family — thanked fellow lawmakers and the public but said he would not talk about politics until he was officially endorsed as prime minister by King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

This is expected within several days.

Despite yesterday’s protest outside parliament, analysts foresee relative stability in the coming months following political chaos and the airport siege that ended after a court ruling on Dec. 2 dissolved the ruling People’s Power Party (PPP) and two coalition partners.

It also banned former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law, from politics for five years.

The remnants of the PPP regrouped as the Phuea Thai Party, which were also seeking a majority in yesterday’s session.

But Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University, said the hopes of many for a respite from political instability were likely to be short-lived.

“The fundamental problem has not been resolved,” Sukhum said. “A Democrat win sets the stage for another round of street protests, this time by pro-Thaksin groups.”

Abhisit and his party enjoy strong support from the middle class and many in the business sector. But he will also face economic woes resulting from both the global slowdown and a domestic climate of uncertainty.

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