Democrats leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is Thailand’s 27th prime minister-elect, after winning a majority vote in a special House session, amidst protest from pro-Pheu Thai supporters who gathered in front of Parliament this morning.
Despite his victory, Abhisit’s been criticized for being too inexperienced for the premier post, even though he has became politically active since 1992. His highest-ranking position in government during his 16 years in politics is the post of Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Known for his good looks, Abhisit is referred to by political pundits and the Thai public alike as “Lor Yai”. In Thai, means handsome
Profile: Abhisit Vejjajiva
Abhisit Vejjajiva is the English-born, Oxford-educated 44-year-old leader of Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party.
Young and photogenic, though not known as particularly dynamic, he has a reputation for “clean politics”.
Distinctly upper-class, Mr Abhisit hails from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origin. Both his parents were medical professors.
He was born in the British city of Newcastle in 1964 and educated at England’s top public school, Eton. He then went on to gain a degree in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) at Oxford University.
Mr Abhisit’s support is drawn mainly from southern Thailand and from Bangkok’s educated middle-classes. He has had less success in attracting the support of working class and rural Thais.
In 1992, Mr Abhisit joined Thailand’s oldest party, the Democrats and, at the age of 27, entered parliament as one of its youngest ever members. Having tried and failed to become party leader in 2001, he eventually got the post in 2005.
Championing a raft of populist policies, Mr Abhisit campaigned under the slogan “Putting People First”.
While not entirely ditching the liberal reforms of “Thaksinomics” – a term used to refer to the economic set of policies of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – he has argued for a more statist approach.
Among other things, Mr Abhisit has advocated free healthcare, a higher minimum wage, and free education, textbooks and milk for nursery-school children.
He has also been a consistent campaigner against corruption.
When Mr Thaksin called a snap election in February 2006, Mr Abhisit’s campaign pitch was that he was “prepared to become a prime minister who adheres to the principle of good governance and ethics, not authoritarianism”.
Later that year, he opposed the military when it overthrew Mr Thaksin in a coup.
“We cannot and do not support any kind of extra-constitutional change, but it is done. The country has to move forward and the best way forward is for the coup leaders to quickly return power to the people and carry out the reforms they promised,” he said at the time.
The patrician also expects high standards of probity from his party and any government he would lead.
Going beyond the current transparency rules for Thai MPs, he would require all future Democrat Party representatives to declare their assets and any involvement in private companies. Currently, those measures apply only to cabinet members.
Before entering parliament, Mr Abhisit had a brief academic career. After Oxford, he taught at Thailand’s Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.
Later, he returned to Oxford to study for a Master’s degree. He then taught economics at Thammasat University before studying law at Ramkhamhaeng University.
Mr Abhisit’s family is a circle of accomplished individuals. One of his two sisters is a professor of child psychology, while the other is a leading Thai author.
Mr Abhisit’s wife is a dentist-turned-mathematics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children.
If there are any chinks in the Abhisit armour, it is perhaps that his good looks tend to outshine his sometimes rather bland political pronouncements.
Abhisit has a long way to go and he may stumble due to his inexperience, lack of political will and softness in dealing with coalition partners who will set tough conditions in exchange for their support.
From now on, the Democrats must not only work hard, in a selfless manner, to regain the public’s trust and confidence, Abhisit himself has to prove he is the real boss, the man in charge, ready to lead the country despite his relatively young age. Gutter politics is a game requiring long fangs and an understanding of betrayal.
That’s the easy part. To become a prime minister is difficult. But to serve as prime minister is even more difficult. Just ask Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat how it is so tough to hang on the high office.
The Mayor of London has paid tribute to his fellow Eton schoolmate, Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has become the new prime minister of Thailand.
Abhisit, 44, who is also known as Mark, was born in Newcastle to Thai parents and attended Eton and Oxford University before becoming Thailand’s premier.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: “Mark is a man of intense integrity and high intellectual gifts.”
He is the youngest prime minister Thailand has had, and perhaps the most articulate and telegenic. He is untainted by corruption or conflicts of interest, which is almost unheard of in Thai politics, especially for someone who has been in parliament for 16 years.
He was never sure until the real votes were counted this morning in the House of Representatives. The 235 votes he got (against 198 for Police Gen Pracha Promnok, nominated by Thaksin Shinawatra’s side) weren’t overwhelming. But the margin of 37 votes was comforting enough.
SUNDAY EXPRESS (April 27, 2008)