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New Thai PM talks reconciliation, faces acid test


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September 18, 2008

News Analysis: Thailand Political Stalemate
New Thai PM talks reconciliation, faces acid test

Somchai Wongsawat shook hands with the opposition leader in Parliament Wednesday immediately after the lower house voted him as the country’s 26th prime minister but his gesture of reconciliation failed to appease anti-government protesters, who called him unfit for the job because of ties to a disgraced former leader.

There have been mixed comments on prospects for the brother-in-law of ousted former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to steer the country out of the political turmoil.

The Associated Press quoted several analysts as saying that the negative reaction to Somchai’s election presaged further turmoil from activists who seized the prime minister's office compound three weeks ago. Others, however, said the soft-spoken Somchai might help open the door to dialogue.

The new leader, who appealed for unity during a news conference after his election, enjoys no grace period but he is expected to prove he is independent, uninfluenced by Thaksin, and has the clout to form a credible and effective cabinet.

Some observers wonder whether Somchai will pursue Thaksin's extradition from England and take up the issue of revoking Thaksin's diplomatic passport. Others doubt if he will be able to restore unity in his own party, People Power Party.

There have been local media comments that Somchai’s premiership won’t last longer than a few months as his party is facing possible dissolution after one of its executive members was found guilty of electoral fraud. Under article 237 of the Thai constitution, the entire party will be dissolved for an act of fraud committed by one member.

On the other hand, if Somchai resorts to amending the constitution as his predecessor did unsuccessfully, he is likely to face the same fate – the pressure to resign.

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