New Thai cabinet sidesteps protests for fresh start (Lead)

December 30th, 2008 - 1:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Abhisit VejjajivaBangkok, Dec 30 (DPA) Thailand’s new cabinet launched its administration Tuesday at the foreign ministry, where legislators were forced to gather after parliament was surrounded by anti-government protestors.Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was obliged to announce his government’s policy statement at the foreign ministry as thousands of red-shirt members of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) had surrounded the parliament building since Monday to prevent legislators from entering the premises.

Abhisit, 44, said his government’s priorities included restoring international confidence in Thailand, bringing about national reconciliation in the deeply divided nation and assuring economic survival in the face of the global economic crisis.

Under the Thai constitution a new government must issue its policy statement within 30 days of being formed, as the first step of its administration.

Thousands of anti-government protestors surrounded Parliament House on Monday in an effort to prevent the new cabinet from kicking off. They succeeded in delaying the event by a day and forcing the cabinet to shift its venue Tuesday.

Bulanat Samuttalak, spokesman for the Democrat Party which leads Thailand’s latest coalition government, defended the move to read the policy statement outside of parliament and said it did not violate the constitution.

“Absolutely not,” Bulanat said. “The constitution only states that the policy statement has to be submitted to all members of parliament within 30 days after the government is formed. We are doing so within 10 days.”

A new coalition government under Adbhist, who heads the Democrat party, was officially endorsed by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Dec 20.

Abhisit’s new government has been widely criticized by the followers of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the so-called “red shirts,” as lacking legitimacy since it failed to win the most seats in the Dec 23, 2007 general election.

The Democrat-led coalition was patched together after former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat was forced to step down when the previously ruling People Power Party was disbanded by a Constitution Court ruling on Dec 3.

Somchai, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was Thailand’s second prime minister of 2008. His predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, a close political ally of Thaksin, lost the premiership on Sep 9 after the Constitution Court ruled he had broken charter rules by hosting a television cooking show in his spare time.

The cabinets of Samak and Somchai were constantly under attack by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a loose coalition of groups adamantly opposed to the return to power by Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister between 2001 to 2006.

The “red shirts” of the DAAD are the counterpart to the “yellow shirts,” or followers of the PAD, which finally toppled the previous government after they laid seige on Bangkok’s two airports for a week, causing more than $3 billion in damage to Thailand’s economy.

In laying siege to parliament, the DAAD has imitated the tactics of the PAD, which tried to block the former coalition government under ex-premier Somchai from launching its administration by staging a mass rally outside parliament Oct 7, blocking legislators from entering the building.

That siege ended in bloodshed as police tried to disperse the PAD with tear-gas canisters, killing one protestor and injuring hundreds of others.

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