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December 21, 2008

Thailand Politics:
Abhisit presents new cabinet

There have been mixed responses to Thailand's new Cabinet led by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, which was announced Saturday after being formally endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, local and wire news reports said.

"It is normal that there are disappointed people in the party, but this is coalition government," Abhisit said amidst accusations that top jobs were going to unseasoned politicians.

For foreign minister, Abhisit chose a retired career diplomat, Kasit Piromya, 64, who previously served as the Thai ambassador to Japan from 2001 to 2004. Kasit was a vocal supporter of the PAD and took to the stage repeatedly during its six-month protest campaign to criticise the government.

The Democrat Party has already been accused of tacitly backing the PAD, while opponents have accused the courts and the army of staging a "silent coup" to get the establishment-friendly Democrats into power.

Supporters of Thaksin and the PPP, which won post-coup elections a year ago, feel they have been robbed of their democratic rights and have vowed to hold a massive rally on December 28 ahead of Abhisit's policy address to parliament.

Abhisit picked his classmate from Oxford University, Korn Chatikavanij, 44, as finance minister, which was well-received by the business circle.

Pravit Wongsuwan, 63, a retired army general, was named as defense minister. Democrat Party Secretary General Suthep Thaugsuban told reporters Thursday that Pravit won unanimous support by the party's executives because of his flawless record in the army.

The new Cabinet includes three female ministers -- Commerce Minister Porntiwa Nakasai, Science and Technology Kalaya Sophonpanich, and Information and Communication Technology Minister Ranongruk Suwunchwee.

The king also approved a schedule for by-elections to be held January 11 to replace 29 lawmakers unseated by the Constitutional Court on December 2 as they were executive members of three political parties convicted of election fraud in last year's general election.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the dissolved parties were allowed to find new political entities within 60 days but those who were on the executive boards are banned from politics for five years.

The rise of Abhisit and his Democrat-led coalition is seen as a pause if not a definite end to the era of deposed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, popular among the rural poor since 2001, was ousted by a bloodless military coup in September 2006 amid charges of corruption and nepotism.

The Democrats were able to secure a simple majority in the House of Representatives only when some 30 lawmakers from the defunct People Power Party and four other parties voted Monday for Abhisit's premiership.

It remains to be seen if the Abhisit-led coalition will be stable since the coalition currently holds only 54 percent of the existing seats.

Abhisit's parliamentary mandate came after Thailand suffered for several months from political conflicts that were dramatized by antigovernment protesters flocking into Bangkok's two main airports late last month and forcing them to close for nearly 10 days.

"This government has no right to rule - you can see minister positions have been awarded to capitalists, the PAD and the military, who helped the Democrats into power," said pro-Thaksin leader Jatuporn Prompan.

"We will move to parliament to demonstrate there, but we will not seal off and block lawmakers from entering," he added.

Thaksin infuriated elements of the old elite in the palace, military and bureaucracy - the PAD's core support base - who saw his popularity as a drain on their power.

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