Bangkok: Lawmakers chose an opposition leader as Thailand’s Prime Minister on Monday in a bid to end months of political chaos, as supporters of the previous government unsuccessfully tried to halt the result by blockading parliament.
The articulate, Oxford-educated Abhisit Vejjajiva, who heads the Democrat Party, gathered 235 votes against 198 by former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The lower house vote followed six months of instability caused by anti-government and anti-Thaksin demonstrations that culminated last month with a week-long takeover of Bangkok’s two airports.
The selection of a new prime minister was expected to calm the country’s politics, at least temporarily. However, several hundred Thaksin supporters tried to block the gates of parliament in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the outcome. Riot police later cleared a path for lawmakers to leave the compound.
The demonstrators hurled rocks at vehicles and abuses at lawmakers inside but most dispersed peacefully, saying they would gather again later on Monday in the capital’s old historic section.
Following the vote, Abhisit, 44, one of the world’s youngest heads of state, thanked fellow lawmakers and the public but said he would not talk about politics until he was officially endorsed as prime minister by the constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Abhisit and his party enjoy strong support from the middle class and many in the business sector. But Sukhum Nuansakul, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Ramkhamhaeng University, said the hopes of many for a respite from political instability was likely to be short-lived.
“The fundamental problem has not been resolved,” Sukhum said. “A Democrat win sets the stage for another round of street protests, this time by pro-Thaksin groups.”
Panithan Wattanayagorn, a political analyst from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, predicted that Abhisit was going to face “among Thailand’s roughest premierships”.
“His leadership qualities are untested. He has not suggested a bold solution (to the crisis). A lot of people have no patience for that, especially when public opinion is so extreme on both sides. That is his weakness and that lack of decisiveness and clear political stance could turn against him very quickly,” he said.
Abhisit told reporters on Sunday that his party would focus on national harmony and economic issues.