In Thailand, opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has become the country's new prime minister. His election marked the end of the coalition government that for the past year had been dominated by allies of the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, center, is congratulated by lawmakers after being chosen the country's new PM
Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party beat a loyalist of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a tense 235-198 vote in the lower house of parliament.
He became Thailand’s 27th Prime Minister, with the vote marking an end of two governments over the past year seen as closely aligned to the former leader, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin, ousted in a coup in 2006, fought to maintain his influence in Thai politics through backing the election of the People’s Power Party or PPP in December 2007.
But the PPP and its leader, Thaksin's brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat, were found guilty of electoral fraud during the 2007 vote by the constitutional court this month. Somchai was forced to resign and his party was dissolved.
A new party, Puea Thai was formed to take in those parliamentarians not affected by the court verdict.
Change in approach
The Democrat Party moved to successfully draw together the former coalition partners who had backed the PPP over the past year. Buranaj Sumatharak, Democrat Party spokesman, said this was the key to the Democrat Party's success in the vote:
“The former governing coalition parties clearly saw that the way out of the crisis is to move away from the previous two government’s hard-line approach to governing -- and that is one of the major reasons why they chose to break ranks with the incumbents.”
But a spokesman for the Puea Thai, Kudeb Saikrajang, said given Thaksin’s on-going popularity in the rural areas, the new government would face hostility in the weeks ahead:
“I believe the people in the villages who support the Puea Thai or the former PPP would be very unhappy about the situation today and I don’t think the performance of the Democrat-led government can satisfy all the grass roots people because they understand that they have been robbed of power.”
Speculation about the new government’s future
Soon after the vote Puea Thai supporters attempted to block the entrances to the parliament. Puea Thai members of parliament said they expected the government to be only short lived.
At the weekend, Thaksin accused the Thai military of interfering and called on those parties backing the Democrats to back away.
Sompob Manarangsan, a professor of economics at Chulalongkorn University, says the vote marks a turning away from the crisis that has plagued the country:
“The situation was quite serious but now at least we we can restore or maintain our democracy – that is very important.”
The next step for Abhisit after receiving royal approval will be to select a new cabinet. Business leaders have called on the government to address the pressing economic issues faced by the country. But Abhisit is also aware he will need to bridge the political and social rifts that have so deeply divided the country.