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Vol. 72/No. 51      December 29, 2008

After rightist protests,
Thai gov’t forced out
AUCKLAND, New Zealand—Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was elected prime minister of Thailand December 15 after a court ruling forced the People’s Power Party (PPP) government to resign following prolonged demonstrations by right-wing opponents of the PPP connected to the military and Thailand’s royalty.

Abhisit is the third prime minister in four months. Parliament elected him, in a close vote, over the former national police chief, Pracha Promnok, who was put forward by the ousted PPP. Some supporters of the PPP defected and voted for Abhisit.

The Democrat Party has been out of power for eight years. It won 34 percent of the vote in last year’s elections.

On December 2 the constitutional court found the PPP and two of its coalition partners guilty of vote-buying in the December 2007 elections. The court ordered the parties to disband and barred their leaders from political office for five years, including the prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat.

Following the ruling, PPP members of parliament who still retained their seats regrouped as the Puea Thai (For Thailand) party.

For the past few months the right-wing People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has conducted a sustained campaign to oust the PPP government. It has mobilized thousands of middle-class Thais into the streets against the PPP government.

Most recently right-wing protesters occupied two airports in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, for a week, stranding 300,000 passengers trying to leave the country. The occupation ended December 3.

PAD proposes an electoral system where a majority of representatives in parliament are appointed and only 30 percent are elected. This is to curb the influence of rural voters, a majority of the population, who PAD leaders describe as “ignorant.”

PAD leaders accuse the PPP of being a puppet of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin’s government had won support among rural toilers through measures granting access to low-interest loans, cheaper health care, and some land redistribution. He was overthrown in a military coup in September 2006 and forced into exile.

After 15 months of military rule, new elections were held in December 2007 and Thaksin’s party, renamed as the PPP, was reelected to government. Somchai, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law, eventually became prime minister.

PAD supporters, who wear yellow clothing as a symbol of their allegiance to Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, had vowed to continue protesting until all Thaksin supporters were removed from government.

Pro-government forces calling themselves the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship have begun to mobilize in response to PAD. On November 30, 15,000 rallied in Bangkok. Many wore red T-shirts and headbands with the words “No Coup” emblazoned on them.

Several days later, hundreds picketed outside the court to oppose the electoral fraud case against the government. Protesters condemned the election of Abhisit as prime minister, calling it a “silent coup.”

Seven people have been killed and hundreds have been injured in the political conflict over the last six months.  
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