The Thai parliament has confirmed Somchai Wongsawat as the new Prime Minister. The 61-year old politician is the brother-in-law of ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. He has been the acting premier since his predecessor Samak Sundaravej was sacked by the constitutional court last week.
Somchai talking to reporters in front of parliament on Wednesday
In the House of Representatives vote Somchai faced opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva. The six-party coalition government endorsed Somchai by 298 votes to 163.
Somchai is the brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled to Britain last month in the middle of a corruption trial. Thaksin was deposed as prime minister two years ago accused of corruption and abuse of power.
Somchai has succeeded Samak Sundaravej who was forced out of office by the constitutional court and failed to win support from key elements within the PPP and coalition partners for his renewed election.
Reports say former prime minister Thaksin had been involved in selecting the new prime minister. PPP party spokesman Kudeb Saikrajang says Mr. Somchai’s main priority will be national reconciliation "to bring back unity to the country".
The government has faced ongoing protests from the so-called People’s Alliance for Democracy or PAD. The PAD, after protesting for four months, in August occupied the main government administration building.
Kudeb says the government hopes to avoid confrontation with the PAD in its efforts to negotiate an end to the occupation: "Right now if we use a confrontation tactic it seems the PAD will get all the attention, which we don’t want."
The opposition Democrat Party, while denying direct ties with the PAD, is sympathetic to the concerns held by the PAD over the government's considered moves to alter the constitution. These would allow for an amnesty for former executives of Thaksin's banned Thai Rak Thai Party and may also open the way for current charges being faced by Thaksin to be dropped. Buranaj Samutharak, Democrat Party spokesman, says:
"We’ll have to wait and see whether the government attempts to move ahead with the constitutional amendments, whether it will try to have former Prime Minister Thaksin face trial, and whether it will be successful in preventing violence and clashes in Bangkok."
A key court verdict against Thaksin over a corruption case involving a land purchase deal by his wife from a state agency was postponed Wednesday. Instead the court said it was issuing fresh arrest warrants for Thaksin and his wife with a new hearing date set for October 21.