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Parliament elects Somchai as Thai PM – New premier’s ties with Thaksin will make it difficult for him to rule: analyst

September 18th, 2008 · No Comments


THAILAND’S Parliament elected Somchai Wongsawat as prime minister yesterday, but the new premier will be ‘under the gun from day one’, according to a leading political observer.

Mr Somchai became Thailand’s 26th prime minister with a clear majority after winning 298 votes, while opposition Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva won 163 votes. There were five abstentions.

The ruling People Power Party’s (PPP) five coalition partners supported his nomination. He eventually gained the party’s full backing on Tuesday, ending two days of infighting over his selection.

But he is ‘tainted’ by being the brother-in-law of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.

‘Somchai will be under the gun from the start because of his relationship with Thaksin,’ Dr Thitinan said. ‘He faces opposition from the (anti-government) People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), the appointed senators – who will impede his rule and are likely to bring charges against the party – and the Democrat Party. They are an alliance.

‘Beyond that, he’s a career bureaucrat with a good sense of policy making, if he’s given the chance,’ he said. ‘He brings a different set of strengths and weaknesses to the table. He doesn’t have (former prime minister) Samak Sundaravej’s relationship with the military or the palace, but he has more support within PPP.’

A general election is likely to be called within the first quarter of next year, barring unforeseen external factors, said Dr Thitinan .

The Democrat Party said Mr Somchai would not be able to deliver effective resolutions to Thailand’s current economic and political crises because he will be dealing with internal rivalry and fears over the party’s future.

PPP faces potential dissolution later this year if a court ruling orders it to be broken up for electoral fraud it committed during last December’s general election.

‘The conditions he was elected in (intense internal divisions within PPP) will make it difficult for him to be the prime minister for all, as he represents a small clique within the party,’ Democrat Party deputy leader and shadow finance minister, Korn Chatikavanij, told The Business Times.

‘They don’t see their tenure as being long term,’ he said. ‘Instead PPP will be focused on getting together as big a war chest as it can for the next election, which is not the right way to win back confidence in the economy.’

PPP rejected the Democrat’s claims, saying the party is united and that Mr Somchai’s administration will mark a distinct change from that of former Prime Minister Samak.

‘The party is united,’ said PPP spokesman Kuthep Saikrachang. ‘We know the election is coming soon, and that means we have to prove that we can be a successful government.’

The prime minister will appoint more competent economic advisers to his team and adopt a new approach, based on compromise and negotiation, to resolve the standoff between the government and the PAD, he said.

However, the PAD yesterday rejected Mr Somchai’s call for reconciliation, saying PPP could not solve the country’s problems and that it would continue its three-week occupation of Government House to oust the party.

‘We need to give less importance to the PAD and put more importance to solving the country’s problems,’ said Mr Kuthep. ‘If we are successful in this, the general public may ask the PAD to change its stance.’

Mr Somchai replaces Mr Samak, who was sacked by the Constitutional Court last Tuesday for a conflict of interest over payments he received as a TV chef.

Published September 18, 2008
© The Business Times

Tags: news · The Business Times (Singapore)

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