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Opposition leader wins Thai PM vote

Video by Louis MASSIE

Latest update : 2008-12-15

Thai opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva was confirmed as the country's new prime minister Monday after winning a special vote in parliament. Meanwhile, supporters of ousted PM Somchai Wongsawat blocked the entrance of parliament to protest the vote.

Thai opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva won enough parliamentary votes Monday to become the kingdom's third prime minister in four months after half a year of crippling protests, an AFP tally showed.

British-born Democrat Party leader Abhisit crossed the threshold of 220 votes for a simple majority in a vote called nearly two weeks after a court dissolved the ruling party linked to ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Loyalists gathered round Abhisit and offered congratulations after the vote, which came amid reports of MPs being locked in hotels and having their mobile phones confiscated as rival parties battled to form a new government.

An AFP tally showed the Oxford-educated 44-year-old won 235 votes against 198 for the candidate proposed by the former ruling party and its allies, ex-police chief Pracha Promnog.

The result had not officially been confirmed by the house speaker.

The vote follows six months of increasingly disruptive protests by the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which peaked with a week-long blockade of Bangkok's airports beginning in late November.

The turmoil left 350,000 passengers stranded and has badly hit Thailand's international image and its economy, with GDP growth forecast at just two percent next year.

PAD supporters said the previous government was running the nation on behalf of Thaksin, and had already occupied the prime minister's offices since August and forced the suspension of parliament on one occasion.

Thaksin was overthrown in a coup in 2006 and remains in exile abroad to avoid corruption charges.

Since elections returned democracy to Thailand in December 2007, the Constitutional Court has removed two Thaksin-linked PPP prime ministers.

In September this year, the court ruled that the elected premier Samak Sundaravej must be stripped of office because he hosted TV cooking shows.

On December 2, the court dissolved the PPP and handed a five-year political ban to then-premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin's brother-in-law, over vote fraud charges dating back to last December's polls.

Several members of the PPP defected to the Democrats in recent days, along with several smaller parties that were part of the previous coalition government.

Twice-elected Thaksin alienated elements of the old elite in the palace, military and bureaucracy, who saw his immense popularity among the urban and rural poor as a drain on some of their power.

Abhisit failed to win over Thaksin's rural supporters in the elections, but is believed to have the backing of the kingdom's old establishment.

Thawee Suraritikul, a political science professor at Sukhothai University, said Abhisit's Democrats will face a shaky coalition and a slim majority.

"Their first three months will be a crucial period. They have many problems waiting for them -- economics, and the sharing of power among coalition partners," he told AFP.

PAD leaders, who suspended their protests when the court dissolved the PPP, have vowed to take to the streets again if they do not approve of Monday's choice of prime minister.

Date created : 2008-12-15