Thaksin's in-law elected new Thailand PM

09:54, 17 September 2008
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Lawmakers elected a brother-in-law...

Lawmakers elected a brother-in-law of deposed leader Thaksin Shinawatra as the new prime minister of Thailand on Wednesday, setting up a showdown with protesters determined to tear down his political legacy, according to AP, Hindu.

Somchai Wongsawat, a 61-year-old bureaucrat who is married to Thaksin`s sister, won a firm majority of votes in the lower house of Parliament, backed by the governing six-party coalition. Lawmakers voted 298-163, with five abstentions.

``I would like to thank everyone for your confidence. I will carry out my duty to the best of my ability,`` Somchai said, standing from his seat in Parliament after the house speaker read out the final tally. He then walked over to opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and shook his hand.

The arrival of a new prime minister marked a small step forward in Thailand`s tumultuous political crisis, but not one likely to defuse it.

The vote, which still needs formal approval by Thailand`s king, drew immediate objection from anti-government protesters who have occupied the prime minister`s compound for over three weeks.

Somchai ``might have a gentlemanly nature, a soft-spoken style and he might have a better reputation than everyone else (in the ruling party), but blood is thicker than water,`` said Somsak Kosaisuk, a protest leader, to loud cheers from protesters camped on the grounds of Government House.

``Thaksin needs someone he can control,`` Somsak said, vowing to continue the sit-in until the ``remnants of Thaksin`s regime are gone.``

Somchai was education minister and became the acting prime minister after Samak Sundaravej was forced from office last Tuesday when a court found him guilty of violating the constitution by accepting pay for hosting TV cooking shows.

Urbane and well-spoken, Somchai has the kind of bureaucratic experience favored by Thailand`s ruling class, having served more than 20 years as a judge before entering government.

But he comes with the political baggage of being a brother-in-law of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and is now in exile in London after fleeing his country to escape corruption charges. Thaksin`s political legacy is a prime target of anti-government protesters.

Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire, is accused of buying his way into power and then enriching himself at the country`s expense. His ouster came after months of demonstrations by the People`s Alliance for Democracy, which then took aim at Samak, whom they accused of being Thaksin`s proxy.

The alliance and tens of thousands of its supporters stormed Government House on Aug. 26 with the goal of kicking Samak out of office. But their goals have since shifted. They now say that any member of the ruling People`s Power Party, which is full of Thaksin allies, is unacceptable as prime minister.

The People`s Power Party and its governing coalition hold 306 of the lower house`s 480 seats.

Somchai has said the government will be temporarily based at Bangkok`s old international airport, since the protesters refuse to leave Government House and authorities do not want to use force to remove them.

The protest alliance complains that Western-style democracy gives too much power to the rural poor, who they say are susceptible to vote buying.

They propose replacing an elected Parliament with one that is mostly appointed, a move critics charge is meant to keep power in the hands of the educated, urban elite.

Dissent within the party prevented Parliament from picking a new prime minister last Friday, when enough lawmakers from the party and its partners in the governing six-party coalition boycotted the session to make a vote legally impossible.

The party had planned to nominate Samak, but he withdrew after the boycott.

AP, Hindu

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