Thai opposition to form government

Democrat Party builds coalition in protests' wake

By Denis D. Gray
Associated Press / December 7, 2008
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BANGKOK - Thailand's main opposition party said yesterday that it plans to form a new government with the help of defectors from the ruling coalition, which could appease an antigovernment group that paralyzed the capital, shutting down its international airport for a week.

The opposition Democrat Party announced it had mustered the backing of 260 lawmakers in the 400-seat lower house, allowing it to form a government with Oxford-educated party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as the new prime minister.

But the party's apparent triumph, managed during a still chaotic situation the day after Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport reopened, will not be sealed until Parliament meets within the next 30 days to endorse Abhisit and the five-party coalition behind him. The former ruling party said it would not give up the fight.

The Democrat Party is supported by the People's Alliance for Democracy, an activist group that headed mass demonstrations against several recent governments led by exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies. The protests culminated in a weeklong siege of the capital's two airports.

The Democrats cobbled their coalition together against a somber backdrop: Thailand's revered 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, regarded as a cornerstone of stability, is ill. However, the palace announced yesterday that the king's condition had improved and his inflamed throat and fever had subsided.

It was feared that if the ruling coalition has selected a new prime minister close to Thaksin, that could again ignite mass protests.

But for now it appears the opposition has the upper hand. The Democrat Party secretary-general, Suthep Thaugsuban, told a press conference the negotiations with other parties had been "the smoothest discussion" he has ever had because everyone realized the country's stability was at stake.

"This was the hardest decision we have made, but the country needs to move forward. We have to think of the country's survival and so we apologize to our MP friends and the people who support us, but we can't work with them anymore," said Boonjong Wongtrairat, a representative of 37 MPs who defected from the government camp and its leading Phuea Thai Party.

"Things are not final yet. Right now, it's a fight between the antidemocracy group and pro-democracy group. The situation is quite clear and we can't accept this," said Phuea Thai Party member Worawat Ua-apinyakul.

Sombat Chanthonwong, a political science professor at Bangkok's Thammasat University, said many voters would find it hard to accept Abhisit as the new prime minister because he did not emerge from an electoral contest.

British-born Abhisit, 44, is a sophisticated politician, but critics say he is out of touch with ordinary people, particularly the rural majority, and lacks charisma. His party's supporters include Bangkok's middle class, influential military figures and foreign investors who see him as a stabilizing force.

Thaksin is still popular among the rural masses, reflecting the deep divide between the urban elite and the country's poor.

The political developments occurred as the country's main international airport was being restored, although officials said yesterday that it could be at least a month before traffic was back to normal. Suvarnabhumi international airport officially reopened Friday.

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