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Abhisit Vejjajiva
อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ

Abhisit Vejjajiva Prime Minister of Thailand

Incumbent
Assumed office 
17 December 2008
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Chaovarat Chanweerakul (Acting)

In office
23 April 2005 – 19 September 2006
27 February 2008 – 17 December 2008
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Banyad Bantadthan

Born 3 August 1964 (1964-08-03) (age 45)
Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom[1][2]
Political party Democrat Party
Spouse(s) Pimpen Sakuntabhai
Children Prang Vejjajiva
Punnasit Vejjajiva[3]
Profession Economist[4]
Religion Buddhism
Signature

Abhisit Vejjajiva (About this sound English pronunciation ; Thai: อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ (Thai pronunciation), RTGS: Aphisit Wetchachiwa, IPA: [àʔpʰíʔsìt wêːt.tɕʰāː.tɕʰīː.wáʔ], born 3 August 1964) is the 27th and current Prime Minister of Thailand. He has been the leader of the Democrat Party since February 2005. Abhisit successfully ran for MP in Bangkok under the Democrat Party following the 1991 NPKC military coup. Abhisit quickly rose through party ranks but failed in a bid to become party leader in 2001. He was accused of covering up illegal donations by failed petrochemical firm TPI Polene to the Party during the run-up to the 2005 elections (as of 2010, the scandal is still under investigation). Abhisit became party leader after the Party's overwhelming defeat in the 2005 elections.

During the 2005-2006 Thai political crisis, Abhisit called for King Bhumibol Adulyadej to appoint a replacement to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In a rare public speech, Bhumibol responded, "Asking for a Royally-appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational".[5] Under Abhisit's leadership, senior Democrat Party members accused Thaksin of what they called the Finland Plot, a supposed plan to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic. Abhisit boycotted the 2006 elections.[6] Abhisit voiced displeasure at the 2006 coup that overthrew Thaksin, but otherwise did not protest it or the military junta that ruled Thailand for over a year. An Attorney-General's Office fact-finding panel found that the Democrat Party bribed other parties to boycott the 2006 elections to force a constitutional crisis, and recommended dissolving the Democrats. The new Constitutional Court acquitted Abhisit and the Democrats of the vote bribery charges, while banning Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party for the same charges. Abhisit supported the junta's 2007 Constitution, calling it an improvement on the 1997 Constitution.[7] The Democrat Party lost the junta-administered 2007 election to the People's Power Party.

In the crisis that followed, some Democrat Party members became leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which seized Government House, and Don Muang Airport and Suvarnabhumi Airports, while violently clashing with the police and anti-PAD protesters. Abhisit voiced displeasure at sieges, but did not stop his deputies from their leadership of the PAD.[8] The sieges ended after the Constitutional Court banned the People's Power Party. Army commander and co-leader of the 2006 coup, General Anupong Paochinda, allegedly coerced several PPP MPs, including those from the Friends of Newin Group, to defect to the Democrat Party allowing Abhisit to be elected Prime Minister.[9][10]

Abhisit became Premier during a global economic crisis and faced escalating domestic political tension. During Songkran of 2009, protesters disrupted the Fourth East Asia Summit.[11] Violent protests then erupted in Bangkok, leading Abhisit to declare a state of emergency, censor the media, and order the military to crack down on the protesters. Members of Abhisit's government were implicated in the attempted assassination of PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, although the government blamed Thaksin.[12][13][14] Abhisit made it his government's top priority to censor and prosecute people questioning the role of the Privy Council and the King in politics. However, he was criticized by Privy Councilor Kamthon Sindhavananda for being slow to respond to alleged insults.[15] In its 2010 report, Human Rights Watch praised Abhisit's rhetoric but dismissed his record, noting, "The government continually undermined respect for human rights and due process of law in Thailand."[16] Numerous cases of government corruption occurred under Abhisit's leadership. Abhisit's Social Development and Human Security Minister Vitoon Nambutr resigned after procuring rotten canned fish for flood stricken refugees, and Public Health Minister Vittaya Kaewparadai resigned after gross overpayment of items under the massive Thai Khem Khaeng (Strong Thailand) stimulus program. [17][18] Abhisit also oversaw rising tension with Cambodia over several issues, including the appointment of controversial PAD leader Kasit Piromya as Foreign Minister, violent border clashes over Preah Vihear, and the appointment of Thaksin Shinawatra as economic advisor to the Cambodian government.

Contents

Family

Abhisit married Dr Pimpen Sakuntabhai, a former dentist and now a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children. Abhisit has two sisters: child psychiatrist Alisa Wacharasindhu and author Ngarmpun Vejjajiva.[19]

Abhisit's father, Athasit Vejjajiva, was a physician, President of Mahidol University, Cabinet minister under the National Peace Keeping Council military junta, President of the Royal Institute of Thailand, and during Abhisit's Premiership, Director of Charoen Pokphand Foods, a Thailand's largest agribusiness firm, and part of the Charoen Pokphand Group, a large family-owned agribusiness, retail, and telecommunications conglomerate.[20][21]

The Vejjajivas are members of a prominent family of Thai Chinese Laotian that are of Hakka origin that maintained good relationships with the Thai ruling elite from as early as the late 18th century.[22][23][24] The family's Chinese surname is Yuan (Chinese: pinyin: Yuán).[25][26] In the reign of Rama VI, the surname "Vejjajiva was bestowed upon Yuan-clan Lopburi provincial physician Sub-Lieutenant Dr. Long (Thai: หลง), his father and grandfather."[27]

Mr. Abhisit was born in Newcastle, England and educated at Eton. He then went on to gain a bachelor degree in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE), first class honor, and a master degree in economics, both from Oxford University.[28]

Apart from his native language, he speaks fluent English.

Entry into politics

The National Peace Keeping Council seized power in a military coup in 1991 and appointed Abhisit's father Deputy Minister of Public Health.[29][30] Abhisit began his political career in the 1992 general elections that followed the coup, becoming a Bangkok MP for the Democrat Party. He was re-elected to the same seat in the 1995 and 1996 general elections. In the elections of 2001 and 2005, he returned to parliament as a Party List MP for the Democrat Party. He has served as Democrat Party spokesman, Government spokesman, Deputy-Secretary to the Prime Minister for Political Affairs, Chairman of the House Education Affairs Committee, and Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Abhisit has occasionally been criticized for relying on his good looks to support his career. Morgan Stanley economist Daniel Lian, in a letter to then PM Thaksin, reportedly asked, "Other than his pretty young face, what else can he offer to the Thai people?"[31] However, The Nation, a local English-language newspaper more sympathetic to the Democrats, responded that "Abhisit’s ammunition is pure decency [and] unrivalled talent."[32].

Democrat Party leader

In 2001, Abhisit made a bid for party leadership, taking on a seasoned politician Banyat Bantadtan. Abhisit lost. However, Banyat led the Democrats to an overwhelming defeat by Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party in the 2005 legislative elections. Banyat resigned and Abhisit was chosen to replace him.

The Thaksin crisis

When Prime Minister Thaksin called a snap election on 25 February 2006, Abhisit said he was "prepared to become a prime minister who adheres to the principles of good governance and ethics, not authoritarianism." The very next day, however, he announced that the Democrat Party, along with other opposition parties, would boycott the elections. Abhisit joined the Thai Nation Party's Banharn Silpa-Archa and Mahachon Party's Sanan Kachornprasart in claiming that the elections "lacked legitimacy" and were an attempt by Thaksin to "divert public attention" from his tax free sales of the Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings. Abhisit also said what was likely from the short time allowed "was an election that would yield the outcome Mr Thaksin was expecting."

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party won an overwhelming majority in the virtually uncontested April 2006 election as suspected by Abhisit. In a number of Democrat-stronghold constituencies, fewer than 20% of eligible voters voted, thus not meeting the minimum required by the constitution. The Election Commission planned for by-elections to fill the vacant seats, and decided to allow parties that had previously boycotted the election to contest the by-elections. The Democrat Party sued the Election Commission, claiming that it had no right to allow new parties to contest the by-elections. A constitutional crisis loomed, as the constitution obligated the formation of a new government within 30 days of the election, but a new government could not be formed due to the vacant seats.

2006 election fraud charges

Thai Rak Thai later charged the Democrat Party with bribing other small political parties into boycotting the April 2006 elections. The Democrats denied this allegation and were acquitted of the charges by the Constitutional Tribunal on 30 May 2007.

On 28 June 2006 an 11-member fact-finding panel headed by Deputy Attorney-General Chaikasem Nitisiri voted unanimously to dissolve the Democrat party (as well as the Thai Rak Thai party and 3 other parties) based on evidence that the party bribed other small opposition parties into boycotting the election of 2 April 2006.[33][34]

In February 2007, candidates from the Progressive Democratic Party testified before the Constitution Tribunal that they were duped into registering for candidacy in the April elections.[35] Three witnesses also testified that Democrat leaders Thaworn Senniam, Wirat Kalayasiri and Jua Ratchasi encouraged protesters to disrupt the registration of candidates during the by-elections after the April 2006 election. Prosecutors contended that the party tried to disqualify the election results and force continuous rounds of by-elections.[36] The defense claimed that the witnesses were hired by the Thai Rak Thai party to discredit the Democrats. Eventually, the Constitutional Tribunal acquitted the Democrat Party of all charges, while finding the Thai Rak Thai Party guilty of the same charges.[37][38]

Policy platform as Opposition

Abhisit in Yala.

On 29 April Abhisit announced his candidacy for Prime Minister at the Democrat Party annual convention. He promised an "agenda for people", with education as the main focus. He used the campaign slogan "Putting People First". He also vowed not to privatise basic utilities such as the electricity and water supply and to nationalize state enterprises that Thaksin had already privatized.[39] Regarding core elements of the so-called "Thaksinomics", Abhisit promised "the benefits from certain populist policies, such as the 30-Baht healthcare scheme, the Village Fund and the SML (Small Medium Large) scheme, will not be revoked but instead improved." He later urged that Thaksin's popular 30-Baht healthcare scheme should be replaced with a system where access to medical services is totally free.[40] Abhisit stated that all of future Democrat MPs would have to declare their assets and any involvement in private companies. (By law, only members of the cabinet need to declare their assets.)[41]

Abhisit raised over Bt200 million at the Democrat Party's 60th Anniversary dinner. He outlined several energy policies, including increasing dividend payments from state-owned oil company PTT and using the funds to repay Oil Fund debts and having state-owned electric utility EGAT absorb part of the rising fuel prices.[42] Abhisit later outlined plans to reduce retail petrol prices by eliminating the 2.50 baht/litre tax used to maintain the government's Oil Fund.[43]

On 13 July 2006, Abhisit promised to deal with escalating violence in the South by making the problems in the Southern provinces a public agenda.[33]

Abhisit also promised many populist policies including providing free education, textbooks, milk and supplemental foods for nursery school students and increasing the minimum wage.[44]

2006 military coup

On 19 September 2006, only weeks before the scheduled elections, the military seized power in the 2006 Thailand coup. Abhisit voiced his disapproval of the coup just hours before all political activities were banned:

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. They have to prove themselves. I urge them to lift all restrictions as soon as possible. There is no need to write a brand new constitution. They could make changes to the 1997 constitution and if that's the case, there is no reason to take a year. Six months is a good time.[45]

Abhisit promised the junta-appointed Premier, Surayud Chulanont, his full support.[46] Abhisit also supported the military junta's 2007 draft constitution on the grounds that it was the "lesser of two evils". Abhisit said the Democrat Party considered the new constitution similar to the 1997 Constitution, but with improvements as well as faults. "If we wanted to please the Council for National Security we would reject the draft so it could pick a charter of its own choosing. If we reject the draft, it will be like handing out power to the Council. We have come up with this stand because we care about national interest and want democracy to be restored soon," he said.[7] Acknowledging the flaws of the new Constitution, Abhisit has also proposed, along with asking for cooperation from other political parties, to amend the Constitution once he is in power.[47]

December 2007 election

The Democrat Party was left in the opposition after the December 2007 parliamentary election, as Samak Sundaravej of the People's Power Party was able to form a six-party coalition. In a parliamentary vote on 28 January 2008, Abhisit was defeated by Samak for the post of Prime Minister, receiving 163 votes against 310 votes for Samak.[48]

Rise to Premiership

Following the Constitutional Court of Thailand's removal of prime minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for vested interests by taking a salary from a cooking show while in the seat of PM, Abhisit lost the National Assembly vote for Prime Minister by 163 votes to 298 for Somchai Wongsawat, ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra's brother in law.[49] On 2 December 2008, the Constitutional Court banned the three government parties for election fraud, including the PPP, thus dissolved the governing coalition and paving the way for a Democrat-led government. The Court also banned Somchai from politics for five years for his involvement in the scandal as one of PPP's executive board member and removed him from office; he was succeeded by a deputy.

After Somchai was removed and the PPP dissolved, many MPs defected to the Democrat side thus forging a new alliance. Defectors included MPs from the For Thais Party (Puea Thai, the successor of the PPP), the former Chart Thai Party under Sanan Krachonprasat, the Thais United National Development Party, and the Neutral Democratic Party, and the "Friends of Newin" faction of the former Peoples Power Party.[50] The enlarged Democrat-led coalition was able to endorse Abhisit as Prime Minister.[51][52][53] Abhisit became Prime Minister after winning a special vote in parliament on 15 December 2008.[54]

Prime Minister of Thailand

Abhisit was formally endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej as Prime Minister on 17 December 2008. Abhisit ascended to power amid a global economic crisis, continued divisions between his PAD/palace/military/urban supporters and UDD/rural critics.

Key appointments in Abhisit's government included PAD leader Kasit Piromya as Foreign Minister, construction tycoon Chaovarat Chanweerakul as Interior Minister, and investment banker and former Abhisit classmate Korn Chatikavanij as Finance Minister.[55] Abhisit, was widely criticized for appointing Kasit as Foreign Minister, defended his selection, saying that “Khun Kasit [Piromya] has been picked for his experience. He has been ambassador to a number of key countries, he’s a very knowledgeable person on the economy. He may have addressed or joined some of the rallies but if he has done anything illegal he will be prosecuted."[56] Massage parlor tycoon Pornthiva Nakasai was appointed Deputy Commerce Minister. Abhisit denied that there was any bargaining or deal-making behind the appointment of his Cabinet.[57]

Abhisit's first act as Prime Minister was to send SMS texts to tens of millions of Thai mobile phone users. The message, signed "Your PM", asked people to help him solve the country's crisis. Interested phone users were asked to send back their postal codes, at a cost of three baht. Abhisit was criticized for violating privacy regulations in the mass SMS. The National Telecommunication Commission says that mobile phone service providers may not exploit client information, including phone numbers, without their consent. However, it did not seek actions against Abhisit.[58][59]

TPI illegal donation scandal

In early 2009, the Democrat Party was accused by the Opposition of receiving 258 million baht in illegal donations from businessman-turned-politician Prachai Leophairatana. Prachai was the founder of failed petrochemical firm TPI Polene (which was under rehabilitation under the Financial Institutions Development Fund) as well as advertising shell companies Messiah Business and Creation. In the lead-up to the 2005 general election, while Abhisit was Deputy Party Leader, TPI Polene allegedly transferred the funds to Messiah Business And Creation, which then transferred the funds to senior Democrat Party leaders and their relatives in batches of less than 2 million baht each to over 70 separate bank accounts (2 million baht is the maximum that banks can transfer without reporting to the Anti-Money Laundering Office).[60] The opposition claimed that the Democrats never reported the donation, which was far in excess to legal limits, to the Election Commission.[61] Abhisit denied the allegations, claiming that his party's accounts had been checked by auditors. Other Democrat Party leaders claimed that “the alleged donation never took place” and that the “party never obtained it.”[62] Receiving and using an unlawful donation could result in dissolution of the Democrat Party and the banning of its executives from political office for violating the Political Party Act.

The Opposition raised the issue in a debate of no-confidence, and accused Abhisit of approving false account reports for 2004 and 2005 to the EC and filing false information.[63] The government won the vote, despite the Bangkok Post calling the evidence against the Democrats "overwhelming" and even the pro-Democrat Nation called the Opposition's presentation "clear-cut."[64][65] However, the scandal was subsequently investigated by the Department of Special Investigation. The DSI prepared a 7,000 page report which it submitted to the Election Commission in early 2010. The EC claimed that the DSI report contained many holes.

Rohingya scandal

In January 2009, CNN investigations revealed that up to 1,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar had been captured by the Thai Navy, beaten, then towed out to sea without engines or navigational aids and with little food and water. Abhisit's initial response was to claim that the media reports were "exaggerated" and that the refugees would "sail on boats without engines or sink their ships so that authorities help them to get onshore.” Army Commander Anupong Paojinda denied the reports of abuse.[66]

On 20 January, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) requested the government for access to 126 surviving boat people in Thai custody.[67] Abhisit said he was "glad to work with international organisations" but that such organizations would have to work on a cooperative basis with proper Thai government procedures. The military said it had “no clear information” about refugees in its custody.[68]

Further media investigations revealed that refugees had very recently been cleared from a detention center but were nowhere to be found. A Thai Navy officer was interviewed, saying that "We have to take the engines off the boats or they will come back. The wind will carry them to India or somewhere."[69] Abhisit then promised a thorough military-led investigation, but simultaneously issued a blanket denial of abuse on behalf of the military. The investigation was led by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the same unit in charge of refugee arrivals.[70]

The ISOC investigation cleared all the government officials involved. Consequently, ISOC continued to be in charge of refugee arrivals.[71]

Abhisit's deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, suggested the entire situation was cooked up to besmirch Thailand's image.[72] Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya claimed that the CNN reports were incorrect and called for people not to "believe what the world says about Rohingya."[73][74]

UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie criticised Thai government of ignoring the plight of Rohinyas and suggested that Thai government should take better care of the Burmese ethnics. The Foreign Ministry reprimanded the UNHCR, noting that the UNHCR had "no mandate" and saying that the matter should not be mentioned by it and its "guests."[75][76] Abhisit was criticized by both Thai and international commentators for defending the military at the expense of protecting the human rights of the refugees. "We are not going to see the Abhisit government going after the military because it was instrumental in his assumption of office," said political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak.[77][78]

Corruption

The Abhisit government was charged in numerous cases of corruption, particularly relating to spending under the Thai Khem Khaeng economic stimulus program. After much public pressure, Abhisit appointed Banlu Siripanich head of an investigative committee to investigate allegations within the Ministry of Public Health. Banlu's committee found that:

  • The former secretary to the Public Health Minister had met with a supplier of ambulances to receive 80 million baht in bribes
  • The purchase of UV fans at a price 10-20x higher than cost
  • Massive overconstruction of buildings exceeding need (60% of the Ministry's stimulus budget was construction)
  • Numerous cases of inflated prices for machines and equipment.

Public Health Minister and Democrat MP Witthaya Kaewparadai, Deputy Minister and Democrat MP Manit Nop-amornbodi (who was in charge of the projects), the Minister's former secretary Siriwan Prassajaksattru, and the Minister's advisor Krissada Manoonwong were found guilty. Minister Witthaya resigned from the Cabinet after the commission's findings became public. However, Deputy Minister Manit refused to resign.[18][79] After resigning, Witthaya was promoted to Chief Government Whip.

After flooding in Phatthalung province, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security used a combination of government funds and public donations to buy relief goods for affected villagers. The canned fish that was distributed was found to be rotten, leading to public accusations of corruption in the procurement of the fish. Democrat Minister Vitoon Nambutr denied that corruption had occurred, given that the fish was purchased using donations rather than government funds. However, he later resigned under pressure, and was replaced by another Democrat MP.[17][80]

Abhisit's government came under accusations that the 26 billion baht Sufficiency Economy Community project was tainted with corruption. The Sufficiency Economy Community project was a populist measure designed to counter Thaksin-era projects in rural Thailand.[81] Abhisit replied to the accusations by suggesting that the “alleged malpractice might have originated during the period when the office was in charge of managing small, medium and large (SML) enterprises…. The SML project was created by the Thaksin Shinawatra government.”[82] Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak Sabhavasu was the Director of the Sufficiency Economy Office for Community Development, and his brother Prapote Sabhavasu was the Deputy Director. The scandal escalated, causing Korbsak to resign from the Office, but to remain as Deputy Prime Minister. The Democrat Party set up a panel to investigate the irregularities. The party's panel found that both Korbsak and his brother were not involved in the corruption.[83][84] Korbsak was promoted to Abhisit's Secretary General.

Public health

Abhisit continued the Surayud junta's policy of compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals, claiming that it complied with the World Trade Organisation's agreement on intellectual property. As of March 2009, he warned that compulsory licensing would not be expanded if the US downgraded Thailand's trade status.[85]

Information and communications technology

Abhisit's information and communications technology (ICT) policy focused on censorship of internet sites that he considered offensive to the monarchy. Abhisit's ICT minister, Ranongruk Suwunchwee, met with officials of TOT and CAT (both state-owned telecommunications firms) only in 2009 to inform them of the policy. 45 million baht was spent on a war room where government staff worked around the clock to block websites from access in Thailand. By September 2009, more than 17,000 "offensive" websites were blocked.[86] Long-standing turnaround plans for the struggling state telecoms enterprises were not implemented, and the two firms focused on routine operations.[87]

Public relations

Abhisit was an innovator in using advertising to improve the public image of his government. Advertising spending by the Prime Minister's Office increased by nearly 40% in the period from January-September 2009, compared to the previous year. The Prime Minister's Office became the third largest advertiser in Thailand, behind only Unilever and P&G and ahead of Toyota and Bayer. In addition, the Defence Ministry's advertising budget, largely focused on "educating" the rural public in Thaksin-strongholds about democracy, increased by over 40% in the same period. Individual Ministers and Deputy Ministers also engaged firms to advertise themselves.[88][89][90]

Legislation

The Democrat Party under Abhisit's leadership proposed a stricter new lese majeste law that would make "contemptuous tones" and putting inaccurate content about the Thai monarchy on the Internet a criminal offense with a jail term of between three to twenty years or a fine ranging from 200,000 to 800,000 baht.[91] At the same time, the Democrat Party accused 29 websites of having content and posted comments which they deemed harmful to the monarchy.[92]

Defense

Abhisit approved the purchase of 6 JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft from Sweden, on top of the 6 aircraft purchased by the military junta of Surayud Chulanont. The aircraft will be purchased for 19.5 billion baht.[93]

In a reshuffle of military staff, Abhisit appointed many officers close to Anupong Paojinda and Prayuth Chan-ocha, to senior positions. Officers suspected of being close to Thaksin Shinawatra were, in the words of the Bangkok Post, "purged." Jiradet Mokasmit was appointed the First Army Corps Commander Weewalit Jornsamrit was appointed the Second Army Corps Commander.[94]

Lèse majesté controversy

Censorship worsened under the Abhisit government compared to the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.[95] Abhisit established a special task-force to combat a supposed explosion of critical comment regarding the role of the Thai monarchy in politics. It launched a website encouraging people to inform on alleged offenders. Nearly 4,800 web pages were blocked for allegedly being insulting to the monarchy. The moves were seen by human rights activists as part of a concerted campaign to suppress political debate in the kingdom.[96]

Abhisit established www.protecttheking.net, a one-stop shop website for people to report on activities and websites that they deemed offensive to the King and the aristocracy. However, government officials forgot to renew the domain name registration and the domain was eventually hijacked by a financial firm that helped in "lining your pockets with financial savings."

In March 2009, police raided the offices of Prachatai, an online newspaper critical of the government, on grounds that the newspaper had insulted the monarchy. Two days later, Abhisit met with hand-picked representatives of Thai internet users and vowed to respect freedom of expression while developing new internet norms and standards.[97]

Despite Abhisit's efforts to censor critical voices, Privy councilor Air Chief Marshal Kamthon Sindhavananda complained that the Abhisit government appeared to be “on the defensive” and was slow in responding. In response, Abhisit pledged to "improve mechanisms to safeguard the royal institution…” and reaffirmed that “protecting the monarchy is the government’s top priority”.[15]

Foreign relations

Abhisit with U.S. officials at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Cambodia

Preah Vihear and border conflict

Abhisit appointed Peoples Alliance for Democracy leader Kasit Piromya as Foreign Minister. Prior to his appointment, Kasit had led anti-Cambodia protests and called Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a "gangster" (he later claimed the word he used actually meant "a person who is lionhearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman"). In April 2009, "large-scale fighting" erupted between Thai and Cambodian troops amid the 900-year-old ruins of the Preah Vihear Hindu temple near the Cambodian border. The Cambodian government claimed its army had killed at least four Thais and captured 10 more, although the Thai government denied that any Thai soldiers were killed or injured. Two Cambodian soldiers were killed and three Thai soldiers were killed. Both armies blamed the other for firing first and denied entering the other's territory.[98][99]

Recall of ambassadors

On 4 November 2009, Cambodia announced that Thaksin Shinawatra had been appointed a special advisor to the Cambodian government and to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Thaksin had been residing in exile in Dubai, and continued to live there after the appointment. On 5 November 2009, Abhisit recalled Thailand's ambassador from Cambodia in protest.[100] Abhisit said Cambodia was interfering in Thailand's internal affairs and as a result all bi-lateral co-operation agreements would be reviewed.[100][100] In retaliation, Cambodia announced it was withdrawing its ambassador from Thailand.[101][102] Sok An, a member of the Council of Ministers and Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, said Thaksin's appointment is a decision internal to Cambodia.[102] "We are looking forward to learning from Thaksin's great economic experience and we are convinced that his experience will contribute to our country's economic development," said a Cambodia government spokesman.[103] The mutual withdrawal of ambassadors was the most severe diplomatic action to have occurred between the two countries since the Franco-Thai war of 1940-41 during which Thailand regained Preah Vihear.[102]

The increase in tensions between Cambodia and Thailand caused Abhisit's popularity to skyrocket, with support tripling according to one poll after diplomatic ties were downgraded.[104] However, his rise in popularity was short-lived, and soon fell dramatically.[105]

"Spy" controversy

On 11 November 2009, Sivarak Chutipong was arrested by Cambodian police for passing the confidential flight plans of Thaksin and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Kamrob Palawatwichai, First Secretary of the Royal Thai Embassy in Cambodia. Sivarak was a Thai engineering working in Cambodia for Cambodia Air Traffic Service, the private firm which manages air traffic control in Cambodia.[106] Sivarak denied that he was a spy, and the Thai government claimed that he was innocent and that the incident was a Thaksin/Cambodian plot to further damage relations between the two countries. The Thai First Secretary was expelled from Cambodia. Sivarak demanded that former Firt Secretary Kamrob speak out and restore his damaged reputation by confirming he was not involved in a spy ring. Kamrob refused to provide comment to the press throughout the controversy, and Kasit's secretary, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, insisted that although that there was no misconduct on the part of the First Secretary or Sivarak, there would be no statement from Kamrob.[107] Sivarak's mother appeared often on Thai television, pleading for the government to assist her son.

Sivarak was later sentenced to jail for 7 years. Thaksin personally requested the Cambodian government to pardon Sivarak, and he was soon pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni and expatriated. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban later accused Sivarak of staging his own arrest in order to discredit the Abhisit government.[108] Former Thai spy chief and Foreign Minister Prasong Soonsiri concurred, claiming, "It has been a set-up from the beginning."[109]

On 18 December 2009, Jatuporn Prompan, a lawmaker from the Puea Thai party, revealed confidential memos sent from Kasit to Abhisit outlining a plot to assassinate Thaksin. Chawanon Intharakomansut, the secretary to the Thai Foreign Minister, said Sunday that while the memo did actually exist, Jatuporn had blown it out of proportion.[110]

Vietnam

Abhisit and the Prime Minister of Vietnam, met Friday, July 10, 2009 to discuss how to address the global economic crisis. Abhisit arrived in Hanoi for an one-day visit with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyễn Tấn Dũng. The two reviewed an honor guard before heading for an hour-and-half talks behind closed doors.[111] "Your visit will contribute to expanding and deepening the friendship and multifaceted cooperation between Vietnam and Thailand," Dung told his guest during the five-minute photo opportunity.

In a regular press conference on July 9, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung told reporters that the two prime ministers were expected to discuss how each is dealing with the financial crisis,[112] discuss the rice trade, tourism, transport links and protection of the Mekong River.[113] Thailand is the world's leading exporter of the grain while Vietnam is ranked second. Thailand and Vietnam are important trading partners, and their bilateral trade reached $6.5 billion in 2008. Thailand also ranked ninth among foreign investors in Vietnam, having poured nearly $6 billion into the country. Vietnam, which has recorded average economic growth of 7 percent over the past decade, saw its economy expand only 3.9 percent in the first half of 2009.[114]

Economic recession

The global economic crisis had a major impact on Thailand. Unemployment in January 2009 soared by 880,000 compared to December 2008.[115] In early 2009, the economy was expected to contract 3% during the year - the actual full year decline was 2.3%[116][117]

Abhisit responded to the crisis with borrowing and increasing the budget deficit, handouts, and general budget cuts. In order to finance his stimulus program, Abhisit successfully rescinded a law that banned it from borrowing more than 20% percent of its spending.[118] In January 2009, a 117 billion baht stimulus package was unveiled. In May, a 1.4 trillion baht package was unveiled, requiring borrowing of 800 billion baht (22 billion USD). Most of the money would be spent on infrastructure, mostly transportation.[119]

Abhisit approved the one-time issuance of 2,000 Baht (approximately 75 USD) checks to people making less than 15,000 Baht (approximately $500) a month.[120]

Prosecution of Peoples Alliance for Democracy

Abhisit promised to enforce the rule of law and prosecute the 21 Peoples Alliance for Democracy leaders who were responsible for seizing Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi Airports. As of February 2010, arrest warrants had not been issued for the airport seizures.[121] On 24 February 2010, government prosecutors deferred a decision for the 8th time to decide whether to indict the nine leaders of the PAD over the 7-month long seizure of Government House. The prosecutors claimed that they could not make the decision because the PAD leaders "were busy in other provinces" at the time.

Songkran unrest

In March 2009, Thaksin Shinawatra claimed via video broadcast that Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda masterminded the 2006 military coup, and that Prem and fellow Privy Councilor members Surayud Chulanont and Chanchai Likhitjittha conspired with the military to ensure that Abhisit became Premier. Although Abhisit denied the accusations, thousands protested in Bangkok early April demanding that Abhisit resign from the Premiership and that Prem, Surayud, and Chanchai resign from the Privy Council.[122] Thaksin called for a "peoples revolution" to overcome the alleged aristocratic influences of the Abhisit government. The protests, led by the red-shirted National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) expanded to Pattaya, the site of the Fourth East Asia Summit. Violent clashes occurred between the UDD and blue-shirted government supporters.[123] The protests caused the summit to be cancelled, leading Abhisit to declare a state of emergency in the areas of Pattaya and Chonburi on April 11. Legislation authorizing emergency decrees was originally pushed through Parliament in 2005 by the Thaksin government, provoking charges of authoritarianism at the time by Abhisit.[124] Under the state of emergency, gatherings of more than five people were prohibited and the press was not permitted to present news which could incite worry.[125]

On 12 April, protesters surrounded Abhisit's limousine at the Interior Ministry in Bangkok and hurled objects at his windows. Abhisit made it out safely while one of his deputies was wounded by the protesters. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said that Abhisit's inner circle viewed the attack as a well-coordinated assassination attempt, claiming that security footage of the incident showed men with masks and guns were positioned on the perimeter of the attack, apparently waiting for protesters to break through the car's bulletproof windows.[126] However, this view was not corroborated by security agencies.

As the week-long Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday began, protests escalated in Bangkok. Fighting erupted between anti-government protesters, government supporters, and the general population.[127] Abhisit declared a state of emergency for Bangkok and surrounding areas due to heightened escalation of tension and denounced the anti-government protesters as "national enemies".[128] Abhisit also issued a decree that empowered the government to censor television broadcasts.[129] A television journalist reported that he was ordered not to show images damaging to the military or government.[130] Before the bloodshed, Thaksin appealed on a D-Station television broadcast for King Bhumibol to intervene and end the showdown.[131]

In the pre-dawn of Monday April 13, Army soldiers used tear gas and fired live and training rounds to clear protesters from the Din Daeng intersection near the Victory Monument in central Bangkok, injuring at least 70 people.[132] [133] The Army later claimed that live rounds were only fired into the air while training rounds were fired at the crowd. However, Human Rights Watch confirmed that there were some cases where the Army fired live ammunition directly at protesters.[134] The UDD claimed that dozens of protesters died from gunshot wounds sustained during the military's attack.[135][136] However, the Army later claimed that the wounds was not caused by an M-16, the standard Army rifle. Also on Monday the government ordered the blocking of satellite news station D Station, an affiliate of the UDD which, at the time, was broadcasting the clashes. Several community radio stations were shut down and searched upon suspicion of supporting the UDD.[137] Violent clashes at numerous locations in Bangkok continued while arrest warrants were issued for Thaksin and 13 protest leaders. Some protest leaders voluntarily gave themselves in to police on 14 April 2009.[138] Government House protesters were identified and had their photographs taken prior to being released. Afterwards, Abhisit issued warrants for dozens of other protest leaders and revoked Thaksin's ordinary passport.[139]

According to government figures, over 120 people were injured in the unrest, most of them UDD demonstrators although some military personnel, pro-government supporters, and general public were also injured.[140] At least one UDD protester died from gunshot wounds sustained during the military's attack in Din Daeng, although the Army claimed the wound was not caused by their standard firearm. The UDD later claimed that at least 6 demonstrators were killed in the unrest and their bodies hauled away by the military; however, they had no evidence for their claim.[141] The dead bodies of 2 UDD protesters were found floating in the Chao Phraya river, their hands tied behind their backs and their bodies badly beaten, although police had yet to conclude whether their murders were politically motivated.[142] Abhisit aide Satit Wongnontaey claimed that two government supporters were shot dead by red shirted protesters in clashes in Din Daeng, although he had no evidence for his claim.[143] The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration estimated that it had incurred 10 million Baht (approximately 300,000 USD) in property damages, including 31 damaged and burned buses.[144] Standard & Poor's lowered Thailand's local currency rating to "A-" from "A", although Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij claimed this would increase the government's borrowing cost minimally.[145]

On 21 April, Abhisit declared a "media war" designed to attack the UDD's claims. He also announced the public distribution of millions of VCDs documenting the government's views on the unrest. At the time, the government's emergency and censorship decrees were still in place.[146][147] The state of emergency, but not the censorship decree, was lifted on 24 April.[148]

Abhisit's treatment of the UDD prompted criticisms that he applied one standard to his opposition and another to the PAD. The Asian Human Rights Commission noted "The obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way." At the time, warrants had not yet been issued for the PAD's peaceful airport seizures that occurred months before, while warrants had been issued for the UDD hours after the violence erupted.[149] In an interview with the Financial Times, Abhisit said “I can understand [the UDD] feeling the cases against PAD have been slow. The problem is that PAD action didn’t take place during my administration and the process that began to investigate.” When the interviewer noted that the airport sieges ended just two weeks before Abhisit came to power, he claimed that "I have summoned the police chief and expressed my concern that the case is ruling slowly and they have made some progress."[150]

Sondhi Limthongkul assassination attempt

Gunmen attempted to assassinate PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul on 17 April 2009. Sondhi was wounded in the attack.[151][152]

Sondhi's son, Jittanart Limthongkul, blamed factions within the military and the Abhisit government of being behind the assassination attempt:

"A new form of war is emerging -- it's being launched by the collusion of certain police and military officers. They are plotting a new coup. It is said that a minister, who is said to be involved in the attempted assassination of a privy councillor, is actively behind this new exercise."[12]

Privy Councillor Charnchai Likitjitta had also been the target of an unsuccessful assassination plot. The Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for a close aide to Deputy Prime Minister and senior Democrat Party figure Sanan Kachornprasart, on the grounds that the aide masterminded the alleged assassination attempt on Charnchai.[153]

Thaksin also implied that forces within the government were behind the attack:

It's [the Abhisit] government that has been given the license to kill [due to the state of emergency]. And I have the impression that the phase of "cut-off killings" has begun -- in other words, they are eliminating anyone who knows too much about the conspiracy of those in power against me.[13]

However, Foreign Minister and former PAD leader Kasit Piromya claimed that Thaksin was behind the assassination attempt:

"Thaksin failed on the populist movement and now I think he has resorted to some sort of assassination attempt."[14]

Kasit revealed that he had planned to have lunch with the Sondhi on the day of the attack. Kasit also claimed that himself, Abhisit, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban were planned targets for assassination, and that he was guarded by several fully armed marines.[154][155]

Army chief Anupong Paojinda said that the M16 rifle shells found at the scene were issued to the Royal Thai Army's 9th Infantry Division, which is under the First Army Region headquartered in Bangkok. Gen Anupong added that the rounds were from stores used for shooting practice, but that it would be very difficult to narrow down from which unit the ammunition actually came.[156][157]

GT200 scandal

GT200 bomb detection devices were first procured in 2006 by coup-leader General Sonthi Boonyaratklin, while he was chairman of the military junta.[158] Suthep Duangchinda, a party list parliamentary candidate of the Democrat Party, is Director of Avia Satcom Co. Ltd.,the local distributor of the devices.[159][160] Avia Satcom is also a partner of Saab, the Swedish defense firm which sold JAS-39 Gripen jet-fighters worth 34.4 billion baht (US$1.1 billion) to the junta.[161] As of October 209, over 500 GT200 units, procured at over a million baht per unit, were being used by the Thai government.[162]

The UK government banned the export of the GT200 devices and warned that they were "wholly ineffective" at detecting bombs and explosives. However, Abhisit defended his government's the use of the devices, while noting that "sometimes if the user hasn’t had enough rest or is not well-prepared, the detector’s effectiveness will be reduced." He suggested procuring battery-powered devices to replace the GT200 units.[163] Rising discontent among the public led Abhisit to promise that he would raise the matter at a Cabinet meeting.

However, prominent members of Abhisit's government continued to defend the effectiveness of the devices. Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban asserted that the GT200 actually works and that it is not necessary to establish a committee to study its effectiveness.[164] Democrat MP and Deputy Interior Minister Thaworn Senneam told journalists after a fatal bomb attack in Southern Thailand on 6 October 2009 that the police had failed to detect the bomb "because the officer handling the GT200 detector was too nervous... His nervousness caused his temperature to rise which, in turn, caused the bomb detector to malfunction." He announced that in future two officers would be assigned to use the device, with the second ready to take over from the first if he was "not ready to use it."[165] Dr. Kalaya Sophonpanich, Minister of Science Technology also defended the use of the devices. "Regarding people’s beliefs, some kinds of beliefs are harmless. If these beliefs make people comfortable, we should just leave them alone, shouldn’t we? Some people are happy to worship trees, for example. We don’t need to disturb them, do we?" she told a meeting with Thai students and scientists in London.[166]

Army Chief Anupong Paochinda accused the press of being hired by Asia Satcom's competitors. He organized a demonstration to "prove" to the media that the devices worked. 4th Army chief Lt. General Pichet Wisaijorn told the press, "It is not Gen Anupong saying the device is effective. Officers in the South and the North and the current and former 4th Army commanders also say the same thing. We have bought them and if the users insist they are good, that's end of the discussion."[167] Joint Military Police Civilian Taskforce commander Lt-General Kasikorn Kirisri said any issues with the GT200 scanner were due to human error.[168] Pornthip Rojanasunand, Director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, had used GT200 devices to concluded that PAD protestor injuries during the 2008 seizure of Government House were due to police misconduct rather than accidental explosion of protester "ping pong bombs", and defended the use of the GT200 devices, claiming that they were effective when searching for bombs and even nails under water. She noted “I do not feel embarrassed if the bomb detector is proven ineffective. Personally, I have never handled the device myself. But my people have used it and it is accurate every time. Long long time ago, people believed that the Earth is flat and anyone who said otherwise faced execution. Things which are not visible does not necessarily mean they do not exist.”[169]

After Thai government tests showed that the GT200 was useless in detecting explosives, the government reported the results to military field personnel. However, it did not ban or stop use of the units, leaving the matter up to the discretion of individual soldiers.[170][171]

South Thailand insurrection

In July 2009, Abhisit claimed that violence in Southern Thailand decreased since his government took over in December. His claim was contradicted by Deep South Watch, an academic think-tank at the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani province, which showed that violence has actually increased since the beginning of the year.[172]

Protest suppression measures

Abhisit faced rising public discontent with his government and near-constant rumors of a military coup. In December 2009, pro-Abhisit academic Chirmsak Pinthong wrote an influential article in Naew Nah newspaper where he said that the nation was already in a state of civil war, although the slaughter had yet to begin.[173] Abhisit enacted numerous security measures throughout February and March in order to suppress protests against his government.

26 February 2010

In February 2010 Abhisit established 38 security centers in the North and Northeast to facilitate crackdowns against anti-government and anti-coup protesters. 5,000 Army troops (54 companies) were deployed in 200 checkpoints to prevent protesters from entering Bangkok. In total, about 20,000 security personnel were deployed.[174] He also escalated efforts to monitor community radio stations, which were often used by rural residents to voice their discontent and by activists to organize protests.[175]

On 7 February 2010, Abhisit's personal spokesperson, Thepthai Senphong, compared red shirts to "dogs" and vowed to use the National Telecommunications Commission to crack down on red shirt community radio stations. He noted that if using the NTC to enforce the media crackdown was illegal, the government would try to pass a special law that would make such a crackdown legal.[176] The NTC acting Secretary-General was also a member of the government-appointed Situation Monitoring Committee in the run up to Thaksin's February court verdict.[177]

The government claimed to foreign diplomats and foreign chambers of commerce that the UDD would "spark violence" and "intensify its agitation and step up protests in Bangkok and around the country in order to disrupt the work of the government and the judiciary" in the period leading up to 26 February. On that date, the Supreme Court’s Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions was scheduled to deliver its verdict on whether to seize Thaksin Shinawatra's 76 billion baht in assets that the military junta had frozen years earlier.[178] Abhisit's father, a Director of CP Foods, announced that he was spending 300,000 baht a month to provide supplementary security to the Premier.[179]

At noon of 1 February, bags of excrement and pla ra were thrown into Abhisit's house. Abhisit linked the incident to Thaksin's assets seizure trial.[180] Deputy PM Suthep explicitly blamed the UDD for the incident.[181] Afterwards, the perpetrator was arrested. The perpetrator confessed and claimed that he threw the excrement because he was fed up with police indifference to his complaints of people smoking cigarettes near his house.[182]

The UDD announced that it would not rally on 26 February, and announced a rally on 14 March.[183]

On the evening of 15 February, police and soldiers established scores of checkpoints and organised special patrols in inner Bangkok as reports from government security agencies continued to play up fears of anti-government rallies.[184]

No major protests were held on 26 February or immediately afterwards, other than a small non-violent gathering in front of the Supreme Court that did not disrupt the ruling.

14 March 2010

Abhisit stepped up security measures to suppress for the large UDD protest scheduled for Sunday 14 March. The protest by the UDD was intended to nonviolently force the government to call for elections. Nattawut Saikua, a leader of the UDD, was quoted as saying that a seizure of government offices were also a possibility. The protest would be attended by thousands, to act as a pressure against the government.[185] In the days prior to the protest more checkpoints were set up to stop protester caravans from entering Bangkok, especially from coming from UDD strongholds in the North and Northeast, with orders to turn the protesters back or keep them in check. Suthep Thaugsuban announced that the UDD would "definitely not be allowed" into Bangkok. Suthep warned members of Cabinet that they and their families might become targets of UDD attacks. Suthep denied the existence of a blacklist with names UDD leaders in it, but admitted the existence of a list of UDD leaders that the government was targeting.[186] A government/military war room for protest suppression, officially called the Peace-keeping Operations Command, was established at the 11th Infantry Regiment in Bangkhen.[187]

Abhisit informed the Democrat Party-led Bangkok Metropolitan Administration that he had intelligence of planned bomb attacks in at least two locations and grenade attacks in 30-40 locations in Bangkok. He claimed that the protesters would include 2,000 UDD "well-trained hardliners."[188] Abhisit also claimed to have received intelligence that there was a terrorist threat of sabotage taking place on March 14. He did not give any details about the nature of the sabotage, or who might be behind such a plot. When questioned about the matter, Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the Army had no such intelligence. [189] The UDD denied Abhisit's allegations and dared him to reveal any evidence backing his claims. Suthep claimed that the UDD protesters planned to “besiege government offices and residences of important figures, like Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda.”[190] Rumors were spread that the UDD planned to bomb Siriraj Hospital, burn down the Grand Palace, seize and take hostages at Chulalongkorn University, and attack dozens of other sites in Bangkok.[191]

On 7 March, it was reported to the public that 6,000 assault rifles and explosives had been stolen from Engineering Regiment 401, part of the 4th Army Engineering Battalion in Patthalung. The alleged theft was discovered on Tuesday 2 March, but only reported to the police on Thursday 4 March.[192][193] Anonymous sources claimed that the weapons were headed to Bangkok where they would be used to incite arrest.[194] UDD leader Natthawut Saikua voiced suspicion that the Army had staged the alleged theft in order to pin blame on the UDD for any violence.[195]

On 9 March, Abhisit imposed the Internal Security Act from 11-23 March, effectively relinquishing control over the capital to the Army.[196][197] A 50,000-strong security force was deployed on Bangkok. Suthep and Abhisit announced that they were moving into an Army safe house at the Peace-keeping Operations Command during the duration of the ISA.[198] On the 12 March Suthep announced that all police forces deployed in the capital would be only lightly armed, female officers would carry no weapons, while male officers would only carry batons and shield. He also announced that only the SWAT teams and rapid-response units will be armed, and that they would be dispatched only in the event of an emergency.[199]

As of Friday 12 March, police and military checkpoints set up along all main routes leading to Bangkok stopped many UDD supporters from reaching the capital. Provincial authorities tried to convince local residents not to travel to Bangkok while preparing protective measures against local rallies in their jurisdictions. The police issued a warning that bus operators transporting people to Bangkok without official permission could have their concessions revoked.[200]

Five bombs exploded in Suratthani, a Democrat Party stronghold, in the early morning of 12 March. Nobody was injured or killed. It was not clear who was behind the bombings. No arrests were made.

The protests were the largest in Thai history, and were peaceful.[201] On Monday, tens of thousands of protesters moved in a caravan to the 11th Infantry Regiment, prompting Abhisit to leave the military base in a military helicopter to "observe traffic." On Tuesday, UDD protesters announced that they would be collecting 10 cubic centimers of blood from volunteer protesters and pouring the blood in a symbolic sacrifice at Government House and other sites in Bangkok. In a statement, Abhisit's personal spokesperson Thepthai Senphong noted that the blood spread by the protesters was indistinguishable from animal blood.[202]

Thaksin Shinawatra

Abhisit was highly critical of Thaksin throughout his time in power. Through his spokesperson, Panithan Wattanayakorn, he accused Thaksin of funding the red-shirt UDD movement from abroad. When UDD leaders and Thaksin denied the accusation and demanded proof for the government's accusations, Deputy Premier Suthep noted that it still did not have any confirmation as to any transfers.[203][204] Afterwards, Matichon newspaper reported that "unnamed sources" at the Democrat Party accused numerous unnamed Thaksin-supporters of financing the movement: "S" who is a former Minister, "P" who is a real estate tycoon and former Minister, "P" who owns a beverage business, "S" who owns a department store, and "W" who is a lawyer.[205]

In the days before the verdict of the Supreme Court's seizure of Thaksin's assets was announced, Abhisit announced that he would possibly forgive Thaksin if Thaksin showed remorse.[206]

Immigration

Abhisit enacted measures that required approximately 1.5 million migrants to register with the government under a new time-consuming system that involves verifying the migrants' identities with their home governments, or be arrested and deported. The deadline for compliance, initially February 28, 2010, was extended to March 2 after several hundred thousand migrants failed to appear. Although migrant labor from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and elsewhere make up 5%-10% of Thailand's work force, migrants are critical in keeping Thailand's wages competitive with China. Human-rights groups noted that migrants have plenty of reasons to fear declaring themselves, including a history of past mistreatment, including bribery, rape, and arbitrary arrest, by Thai authorities. Other migrant workers worry that information about their activities will be shared with their home governments, exposing them or their families to harassment.[207]

Popularity

Surveys

According to a survey by Assumption University's Abac Poll around the end of May 2009, Abhisit received a 70% Approval rating, the highest within the Cabinet. The overall approval rating for the government were 59% "rather much or much" satisfied and 9.4% at "very much" satisfied. Overall the government was rated 6.5 out of 10 by a majority of respondents.[208]

By-elections

In the first round of by-elections after the House of Representatives elected Abhisit Vejjajiva as the Prime Minister, Abhisit's coalition extended its majority by 20 seats out of 29 contested seats[209]. June by-elections in Sakon Nakhon were expected to be a shoo-in for the government-member Bhum Jai Thai Party due to its control over the powerful Ministry of Interior. However, Bhum Jai Thai was roundly defeated by the Thaksin-affiliated Puea Thai Party. The by-election result was called a "nightmare" for Abhisit's coalition government[210]

See also

References

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  108. ^ Bangkok Post, Sivarak's mum threatens to sue Suthep, 17 December 2009
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  112. ^ Vietnam to discuss Mekong River with Thailand
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  130. ^ IPS News, With Censorship, Thais Turn to Websites and Foreign Media, 19 April 2009
  131. ^ The Economist, The trouble with the king, 16 April 2009
  132. ^ The Times, Abhisit Vejjajiva won the media battle but the hardest job is yet to come, 14 April 2009
  133. ^ The Times, Thai troops open fire on protesters in Bangkok 13 April 2009
  134. ^ The Telegraph, Human Rights Watch calls for Thailand inquiry after riots, 16 April 2009
  135. ^ Bangkok Post, “Red in retreat,” 14 April 2009
  136. ^ Bangkok Post, “Red revolt,” 14 April 2009
  137. ^ MCOT, Community radio stations ordered to close temporarily, 16 April 2009
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  140. ^ BBC News, “Army pressure ends Thai protest,” 14 April 2009
  141. ^ Bangkok Pundit, “It Begins,” 13 April 2009
  142. ^ Straits Times, Police probe 'Red Shirt' deaths, 16 April 2009
  143. ^ The Nation, One shot dead by red-shirted protesters
  144. ^ MCOT, Bt10 million BMA property damage from protest; religious rites to be held, 16 April 2009
  145. ^ XIn Hua, Thai Minister: gov't borrowing cost to be minimally hit by rating downgrade, 16 April 2009
  146. ^ The Nation, Govt to launch media war countering red shirts
  147. ^ Bangkok Post, UDD's planned video show self-defeating, 21 April 2009
  148. ^ Reuters, Thailand lifts emergency, plans charter reforms, 24 April 2009
  149. ^ AHRC, Thai courts’ use of legal double standards encourages extralegal means by opposition, 25 April 2009
  150. ^ Financial Times, Interview with Abhisit Vejjajiva, 23 April 2009
  151. ^ Bloomberg, Thai Protest Leader Sondhi Survives Assassination Bid, 17 April 2009
  152. ^ The Times, Thailand's Yellow Shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul survives assassination attempt, 17 April 2009
  153. ^ Bangkok Post, Sanan aide sought over Charnchai plot, 9 April 2009
  154. ^ Bangkok Post, Thaksin accused of being behind attack on Sondhi, 22 April 2009
  155. ^ Seoul Times, Assassins Haunt Thailand's Government after Insurrection Is Crushed, 26 December 2008
  156. ^ Army bullets used in Sondhi attack; retrieved 7:10 PM 4/23/2009
  157. ^ Thai army says its bullets used in Sondhi attack; retrieved 7:10 PM 4/23/2009
  158. ^ Bangkok Post, GT200 doubts irk southerners, 30 January 2010
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  189. ^ The Nation, Sabotage threat: PM, 7 March 2010
  190. ^ The Nation, Monarch gets briefing, 9 March 2010
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  209. ^ The Guardian, Thailand's ruling coalition consolidates power with byelection results, 12 January 2009
  210. ^ The Star, Absent Thaksin strikes polls blow to ruling coalition, 27 June 2009

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Chaovarat Chanweerakul
Acting
Prime Minister of Thailand
2008 – Present
Incumbent

His Excellency Abhisit Vejjajiva
อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ
 
MPCh MWM

Incumbent
Assumed office 
17 December 2008
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Chaovarat Chanweerakul (Acting)

In office
23 December 2007 – 17 December 2008
Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej
Somchai Wongsawat
Chaovarat Chanweerakul (Acting)
Preceded by Parliament reestablished
Succeeded by Yongyuth Wichaidit
In office
6 March 2005 – 19 September 2006
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
Chitchai Wannasathit
Preceded by Banyad Bantadthan
Succeeded by Parliament prorogued

Born 3 August 1964 (1964-08-03) (age 46)
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom[1][2]
Political party Democrat Party
Spouse(s) Pimpen Sakuntabhai
Children Prang Vejjajiva
Punnasit Vejjajiva[3]
Alma mater St John's College, Oxford
Ramkhamhaeng University
Profession Economist[4]
Religion Buddhism
Signature File:Thai-PM-abhisit

Abhisit Vejjajiva ( English pronunciation ; Thai: อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ (Thai pronunciation), RTGS: Aphisit Wetchachiwa, [à.pʰí.sìt wêːt.tɕʰāː.tɕʰīː.wáʔ], born 3 August 1964) is the leader of the Democrat Party and 27th and current Prime Minister of Thailand.

Born in England, Abhisit attended Eton College and earned his graduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Oxford.[5] He was elected to the Parliament of Thailand at age 27, and promoted to Democrat Party leader in 2005, after his predecessor resigned following the party's defeat in the general election.[6]

Abhisit was officially endorsed as the Prime Minister of Thailand by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 17 December 2008, following a vote by members of Parliament.[7] At age 44, he was the country's youngest prime minister in more than 60 years.[8] He rose to office after the Constitutional Court of Thailand dissolved the ruling governing coalition, and removed ex-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from office over an election fraud scandal.[9]

Abhisit became Premier at a time of global economic turmoil and rising domestic political tensions.[10] As prime minister, he promoted a "People’s Agenda."[11] He administered two economic stimulus packages: a $40 billion, three-year infrastructure improvement plan, and a more than $3 billion program that featured cash subsidies and other initiatives to help the poor, elderly, farmers and students.[12] By 2010, the stock market and the value of the baht had rebounded to their highest levels since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Abhisit oversaw strict enforcement of Thailand's lèse majesté laws, including censorship of Web sites deemed harmful to national security and the monarchy.[13] He also advocated for stronger anti-corruption measures, although several members of his Cabinet resigned due to corruption scandals, and parts of his economic stimulus packages were criticized for instances of alleged corruption. Abhisit promoted a national reconciliation plan following violent clashes between the military and protesters in 2009 and 2010.[14][15]

Contents

Early Life and Family

File:Abhisit and
Abhisit Vejjajiva with Pimpen Vejjajiva, Prang, and Pannasit .

Abhisit was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and educated at Eton. He attended the University of Oxford, where he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), first class honors, and a master's degree in economics.[16] Apart from his native language, he speaks fluent English.

Abhisit was preceded in public service by his father, Athasit Vejjajiva, and his great-grandfather, Phra Bamrad Naradura, or Long Vejjajiva. Abhisit's father was a former president of Mahidol University and the Royal Institute of Thailand, and served as deputy public health minister under the National Peace Keeping Council military junta. While Abhisit was prime minister, his father also worked as the director of Charoen Pokphand Foods, Thailand's largest agribusiness firm and part of the Charoen Pokphand Group.[17][18] Abhisit's great-grandfather served as public health minister, and founded Bamrad Naradura hospital in Nonthaburi.[19]

Abhisit is married to Pimpen Sakuntabhai, a former dentist and now a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children: Prang Vejjajiva (daughter) and Pannasit Vejjajiva (son). Abhisit has two sisters: child psychiatrist Alisa Wacharasindhu and author Ngarmpun Vejjajiva.[20]

Early political career

File:Abhisit Bangkok election
Abhisit Winning the Bangkok Election District 6 in 1992

Entry into politics

File:Government Spokesperson under Premiership of PM Chuan
Abhisit as Government Spokesperson under Premiership of Chuan Leekpai, 20th Prime Minister of Thailand.

The National Peace Keeping Council seized power in a military coup in 1991 and appointed Abhisit's father Deputy Minister of Public Health.[21][22] Abhisit began his political career in the 1992 general elections that followed the coup, becoming a Bangkok MP for the Democrat Party. He was re-elected to the same seat in the 1995 and 1996 general elections. In the elections of 2001 and 2005, he returned to parliament as a Party List MP for the Democrat Party. He has served as Democrat Party spokesman, Government spokesman, Deputy-Secretary to the Prime Minister for Political Affairs, Chairman of the House Education Affairs Committee, and Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.

Democrat Party leader

Abhisit was first nominated for the position of Democrat Party leader in 2003, following the resignation of then-party leader and former-Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai. However, he lost the bid in a close election with seasoned politician Banyat Bantadtan.[23] Two years later, Banyat led the Democrat Party to an overwhelming defeat in the 2005 general elections. Banyat resigned following the elections and Abhisit was named the new party leader.

As party leader, Abhisit was a frequent critic of then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. During the 2005-2006 Thai political crisis, for instance, Abhisit said King Bhumibol Adulyadej should appoint a replacement for Thaksin as prime minister.[citation needed] During a Royal audience with the country's Supreme Court judges, Bhumibol said, "Asking for a Royally-appointed prime minister is undemocratic. It is, pardon me, a mess. It is irrational."[24] Under Abhisit's leadership, senior Democrat Party members also accused Thaksin of a supposed plan to overthrow the monarchy and establish a republic.[citation needed] Abhisit voiced displeasure at the 2006 coup, but otherwise did not protest it or the military junta that ruled Thailand for over a year.[citation needed]

2006 elections

In February 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin dissolved the House of Representatives and called for new elections in April. In response, Abhisit announced that the Democrats and other opposition parties would boycott the elections. They claimed the elections lacked legitimacy, and were an attempt by Thaksin to divert public attention from his tax free sales of the Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings.[25]

Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party won an overwhelming majority in the virtually uncontested April 2006 election. However, the elections also left 38 seats vacant in the House of Representatives, because some Thai Rak Thai candidates were unable to garner the constitutionally required minimum of 20% of the vote to hold office. In the ensuing political crisis, Thaksin announced he would step down as Prime Minister, and the Constitutional Court ultimately invalidated the election results.[26]

The Thai Rak Thai party charged the Democrats with bribing other small political parties into boycotting the April 2006 elections. An 11-member fact-finding panel headed by Deputy Attorney-General Chaikasem Nitisiri voted unanimously in June 2006 to recommend dissolving the Democrat Party, as well as Thai Rak Thai and three other parties, based on evidence that the Democrats bribed other opposition parties into boycotting the elections.[27][28] In February 2007, candidates from the Progressive Democratic Party testified before the Constitution Tribunal that they were duped into registering for candidacy in the April elections.[29] Three witnesses testified that Democrat leaders Thaworn Senniam, Wirat Kalayasiri, and Jua Ratchasi encouraged protesters to disrupt the registration of candidates during the by-elections after the April 2006 election. Prosecutors contended that the party tried to disqualify the election results and force continuous rounds of by-elections.[30] The defense claimed that the witnesses were hired by the Thai Rak Thai party to discredit the Democrats. Ultimately, the Constitutional Court of Thailand acquitted Abhisit and the Democrats of bribery, and instead banned Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party for the same charges.[31][32]

2006 military coup

On 19 September 2006, only weeks before the scheduled elections, the military seized power in the 2006 Thailand coup. Abhisit voiced his disapproval of the coup just hours before all political activities were banned:

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. They have to prove themselves. I urge them to lift all restrictions as soon as possible. There is no need to write a brand new constitution. They could make changes to the 1997 constitution and if that's the case, there is no reason to take a year. Six months is a good time.[33]

Abhisit and the Democrats supported the military junta's 2007 draft constitution on the grounds that rejecting it would give more power to the junta.[34] Abhisit said the Democrat Party considered the new constitution similar to the 1997 Constitution, but with improvements as well as faults. "If we wanted to please the Council for National Security we would reject the draft so it could pick a charter of its own choosing. If we reject the draft, it will be like handing out power to the Council. We have come up with this stand because we care about national interest and want democracy to be restored soon," he said.[34] Abhisit said he would seek to amend the Constitution if he was named prime minister.[35]

2007 elections

The Democrat Party remained in the opposition after the December 2007 parliamentary election, when Samak Sundaravej of the People's Power Party formed a new, six-party governing coalition. In a parliamentary vote to select a new prime minister on 28 January 2008, Samak defeated Abhisit by a vote of 310 to 163.[36] On 9 September 2008, Mr. Samak was removed from the post by the Constitutional Court for receiving payment as the host of a TV cooking program.

In the crisis that followed, some Democrat Party members became leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which organized a six-month-long demonstration and seized Government House, Don Muang Airport, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Abhisit voiced displeasure at the sieges, but did not stop his deputies from their leadership of the PAD.[37] The sieges ended after the Constitutional Court banned the People's Power Party. Army commander and co-leader of the 2006 coup, General Anupong Paochinda, allegedly coerced several PPP MPs from the Friends of Newin Group to defect to the Democrat Party, allowing Abhisit to be elected Prime Minister.[38][39]

Upon becoming Premiere, Abhisit promised to enforce the rule of law and prosecute the 21 Peoples Alliance for Democracy leaders who were responsible for seizing Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi Airports. As of February 2010, arrest warrants still had not been issued for the airport seizures.[40] On 24 February 2010, government prosecutors deferred a decision for the eighth time to decide whether to indict the nine leaders of the PAD over the 7-month long seizure of Government House. However, as the PAD leaders did not come testify voluntarily, the judge could not make the decision and the process was thereby delayed.

Rise to Premiership

When Thaksin called for new elections in April 2006, Abhisit said he was "prepared to become a prime minister who adheres to the principles of good governance and ethics, not authoritarianism." On 29 April Abhisit announced his candidacy for Prime Minister at the Democrat Party annual convention. He promised a "People’s Agenda," with education as the main focus. He used the campaign slogan "Putting People First." He also vowed not to privatize basic utilities such as water and electricity, and to nationalize state enterprises that Thaksin had privatized.[41] Regarding core elements of the so-called "Thaksinomics", Abhisit promised "the benefits from certain populist policies, such as the 30-Baht healthcare scheme, the Village Fund and the SML (Small Medium Large) scheme, will not be revoked but instead improved." He later urged that Thaksin's popular 30-Baht health care scheme should be replaced with a system where access to medical services was totally free.[42] Abhisit stated that all future Democrat MPs would have to declare their assets and any involvement in private companies. (By law, only members of the cabinet needed to declare their assets.)[43]

Abhisit raised more than Bt200 million at the Democrat Party's 60th Anniversary dinner. He outlined several energy policies, including increasing dividend payments from state-owned oil company PTT and using the funds to repay Oil Fund debts, and having state-owned electric utility EGAT absorb part of the rising fuel prices.[44] Abhisit later outlined plans to reduce retail petrol prices by eliminating the 2.50 baht/litre tax used to maintain the government's Oil Fund.[45]

On 13 July 2006, Abhisit promised to deal with escalating violence in the South by making the problems in the Southern provinces a public agenda.

Abhisit also promised many populist policies including providing free education, textbooks, milk, and supplemental foods for nursery school students and increasing the minimum wage.[46]

Following the Constitutional Court of Thailand's removal of prime minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for vested interests by taking a salary from a cooking show while in the seat of PM, Abhisit lost the National Assembly vote for Prime Minister by 163 votes to 298 for Somchai Wongsawat, ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra's brother in law.[47] On 2 December 2008, the Constitutional Court banned the three government parties for election fraud, including the PPP, thus dissolving the governing coalition and paving the way for a Democrat-led government. The Court also removed Somchai from office and banned him from politics for five years for his involvement in the scandal as one of PPP's executive board members. He was succeeded by a deputy.

After Somchai was removed and the PPP dissolved, the MPs of the parties which had been in coalition with the PPP forged a new coalition with the Democrat Party, which had been in opposition until then. Most of the defectors were MPs from the Friends of Newin faction of the PPP, as well as the Bhumjaithai Party, the Puea Pandin Party, the Chartthaipattana Party, and the Rum Chart Pattana Party.[48] The defection of the powerful Friends of Newin Group came about due to the alleged coercion by Army Commander General Anupong Paochinda, a move that Senator Khamnoon Sitthisamarn called an "Anupong-style coup."[38][39][49] The Democrat-led coalition was able to endorse Abhisit as Prime Minister.[50][51][52] Abhisit became Prime Minister after winning a vote in parliament on 15 December 2008.[53]

Prime Minister of Thailand

File:Abhisit Graciously
Abhisit was appointed the 27th and current Prime Minister of Thailand in December 2008.

Abhisit was formally endorsed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej as Prime Minister on 17 December 2008. Abhisit ascended to power amid a global economic crisis, continued divisions between his PAD/palace/military/urban supporters and UDD/rural critics/police.

Key appointments in Abhisit's government included PAD leader Kasit Piromya as Foreign Minister, construction tycoon Chaovarat Chanweerakul as Interior Minister, and investment banker and former Abhisit classmate Korn Chatikavanij as Finance Minister.[54] Abhisit, who was widely criticized for appointing Kasit as Foreign Minister, defended his selection, saying that "Khun Kasit Piromya has been picked for his experience. He has been ambassador to a number of key countries, he's a very knowledgeable person on the economy. He may have addressed or joined some of the rallies but if he has done anything illegal he will be prosecuted."[55][dead link][citation needed] Massage parlor tycoon Pornthiva Nakasai was appointed Deputy Commerce Minister. Abhisit denied that there was any bargaining or deal-making behind the appointment of his Cabinet.[56]

Abhisit's first act as Prime Minister was to send SMS texts to tens of millions of Thai mobile phone users. The message, signed "Your PM," asked people to help him solve the country's crisis. Interested phone users were asked to send back their postal codes, at a cost of three baht. Abhisit was criticized for violating privacy regulations in the mass SMS. The National Telecommunication Commission says that mobile phone service providers may not exploit client information, including phone numbers, without their consent. However, it did not seek actions against Abhisit.[57][58]

According to a survey by Assumption University's Abac Poll in May 2009, Abhisit received a 70 percent approval rating, the highest within the Cabinet. The government's overall approval rating was 59 percent "rather much or much" satisfied and 9.4 percent "very much" satisfied. Overall the government was rated 6.5 out of 10 by a majority of respondents.[59]

Domestic policy

Economic recession and stimulus

[[File:|thumb|Stimulus Package Phase 1.]] The global economic crisis had a major impact on Thailand. Unemployment in January 2009 soared by 880,000 compared to December 2008.[60] In early 2009, the economy was expected to contract 3% during the year - the actual full year decline was 2.3%[61][62]

Abhisit responded to the crisis with borrowing and increasing the budget deficit, handouts, and general budget cuts.[63] In January 2009, a 117 billion baht stimulus package was unveiled. In May, a 1.4 trillion baht package was unveiled, requiring borrowing of 800 billion baht (22 billion USD). The majority of the money would be spent on infrastructure, mostly transportation.[64]

Abhisit approved the one-time issuance of 2,000 Baht (approximately 75 USD) checks to people making less than 15,000 Baht (approximately $500) a month.[65] A training program, dubbed "Ton Kla A-cheep" was initiated for up to 500,000 new graduates and unemployed people. Free government education was expanded to up to 15 years, as written in the constitution, saving approximately 2,000 baht per term per student. A pension of 500 baht a month was provided to those aged 60 and above. Price guarantees were instituted to subsidize rice, corn, and tapioca farmers. The government provided funds to villages nationwide to carry out projects based on King Bhumibol's sufficiency economy philosophy.

A second round of stimulus spending followed, under the name of "Strong Thailand" (Thai Khem Khaeg). A program was initiated to provide resolve land-title issues for squatters living on state land.[66][67] The government attempted to transfer private loans from loan sharks to state-owned banks, protecting debtors from unreasonably high interest rate demanded by the loan sharks and helping them finance their families again.

Thailand's economy is expected to grow 10% if not negatively affected by global economic slowdown. Foreign investors drove the SET index to the highest level since May 23, 2008.

Public health

Abhisit continued the Surayud junta's policy of compulsory licensing of pharmaceuticals, claiming that it complied with the World Trade Organisation's agreement on intellectual property. As of March 2009, he warned that compulsory licensing would not be expanded if the U.S. downgraded Thailand's trade status.[68]

Despite the opposing voices, Abhisit continued to support public health protection and refused to drop the Medical Malpractice Victim Protection Bill in the on-going legislative process. Furthermore, he set up a national-level committee to improve the draft before sending the final copy to the parliament. "We need to push ahead with the legislation. For some contentious points in this bill, all sides just need to talk and cooperate," Abhisit said after a meeting with representatives from the Network for People's Medical Protection and the Federation of Medical Workers, where both sides sought to have a national committee set-up to improve the bill.[69]

Information and communications technology

Abhisit's information and communications technology (ICT) policy included censorship of Internet sites the government considered offensive to the monarchy. Abhisit's ICT minister, Ranongruk Suwunchwee, met with officials of TOT and CAT (both state-owned telecommunications firms) in 2009 to inform them of the policy. Ranongruk said 45 million baht was spent on a war room where government staff worked around the clock to block access to certain Web sites in Thailand. By September 2009, more than 17,000 "offensive" Web sites were blocked.[70]

An auction for 3G 2.1 gigahertz spectrum licenses organized by the National Telecommunications Commission was cancelled after state-owned firms CAT Telecom and TOT successfully filed an injunction which claimed that the NTC lacked the authority to organize the auction. They also argued that the auction would cause the state agencies to lose revenue.[71] The regulator originally planned to hold the auctions prior to the 2006 military coup.[72] Five days after the injunction, the government approved a 19.9 billion budget for TOT to expand its existing 3G network.[73]

In Thailand, the government has the right to use mass communication, including radio and television. Especially during this current government, mass communication has become increasingly important as a means of informing people on government’s policies and their benefits.[citation needed] Within mass communication, however, it is difficult to delineate between objective and biased information. On one hand, the media can be used to provide useful information; on the other hand, it can be used to increase the popularity of the government. And this is why there arises the debate about whether the government is justified to use mass communication, and to what extent.[74]

Defense

Abhisit's government approved military budgets of 170 billion baht for 2011 and 154 billion baht in 2010. 19.5 billion baht of the 2011 budget was allocated for the purchase of an additional 6 JAS 39 Gripen fighter planes, on top of the 6 aircraft purchased by the military junta of Surayud Chulanont.[75] Army Commander Anupong noted that the military's budget would be increased to 2% of GDP, from about 1% of GDP prior to the 2006 coup.[76][77]

In the 2009 military staff reshuffle, Jiradet Mokasmit was appointed the First Army Corps Commander and Weewalit Jornsamrit was appointed the Second Army Corps Commander.[78]

In the 2010, Prayuth Chan-ocha was appointed Army Commander, replacing the retiring Anupong Paojinda.

South Thailand insurrection

In July 2009, Abhisit claimed that violence in Southern Thailand decreased since his government took over, thanks to a focus on economic development. His claim was contradicted by Deep South Watch, an academic think-tank at the Prince of Songkhla University in Pattani province, which showed that violence has actually increased since the beginning of the 2009.[79]

In February 2010, the government said that it was capable of eliminating insurgency violence by the end of the year. Foreign Minister Kasit claimed a "sense of optimism" in the region.[80]

Human Rights Watch criticized the government for failing to curb abuses by security forces in the South, where the military operated with impunity. It noted that no member of the security forces had ever been prosecuted for human rights abuses in the region. It found that insurgents used these state-sponsored abuses and heavy-handed tactics to recruit new members and justify their campaign of violence.[81]

Immigration

Abhisit enacted measures that required approximately 1.5 million migrants to register with the government under a new time-consuming system that involves verifying the migrants' identities with their home governments, or be arrested and deported. The deadline for compliance, initially February 28, 2010, was extended to March 2 after several hundred thousand migrants failed to appear. Although migrant labor from Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and elsewhere make up 5%-10% of Thailand's work force, migrants are critical in keeping Thailand's wages competitive with China. Human-rights groups noted that migrants have plenty of reasons to fear declaring themselves, including a history of past mistreatment, including bribery, rape, and arbitrary arrest, by Thai authorities. Other migrant workers worry that information about their activities will be shared with their home governments, exposing them or their families to harassment.[82]

Lèse majesté

Abhisit established a special task-force to combat a supposed explosion of critical comment regarding the role of the Thai monarchy in politics. It launched a website encouraging people to inform on alleged offenders. Nearly 4,800 web pages were blocked for allegedly insulting the monarchy. However, this action can be thought of as disregarding the concept of freedom of press and is thereby subject of controversy.[83] The Democrat Party proposed a stricter new lese majeste law that would make "contemptuous tones" and putting inaccurate content about the Thai monarchy on the Internet a criminal offense with a jail term of between three to twenty years or a fine ranging from 200,000 to 800,000 baht.[84] At the same time, the Democrat Party accused 29 websites of having content and posted comments which they deemed harmful to the monarchy.[85] Abhisit also established www.protecttheking.net, a one-stop shop website for people to report on activities and websites that they deemed offensive to the King and the aristocracy.

In March 2009, police shut down Prachatai, an online newspaper, on based on claims that the newspaper insulted the monarch. Two days later, Abhisit met with hand-picked representatives of Thai internet users and promised to respect freedom of expression while developing new internet norms and standards.[86]

From the perspective of Privy councilor Air Chief Marshal Kamthon Sindhavananda, on the other hand, Abhisit government appeared to be "on the defensive" and was slow in responding. In response, Abhisit pledged to "improve mechanisms to safeguard the royal institution…" and reaffirmed that "protecting the monarchy is the government's top priority".[87]

In February 2009, Abhisit acknowledged that the country's lese majeste laws were being abused for political gain, and that he would "try to find ways of fixing that."[88] An advisory committee on the application of lese majeste laws was established in January 2010.[89]

Censorship activities undertaken by Abhisit's government included blocking foreign websites and other massive media that violate the law, such as insulting the monarchy. The stated rationale for most of the censorship was "national security" and "protecting the monarchy." However, international human rights agencies accused Abhisit of human rights violations and politically motivated censorship.

The arrest of Prachatai editor Chiranuch Premchaiporn became a cause celebre. Chiranuch was charged under the Computer Crimes Act for not deleting fast enough comments posted to her news website that were allegedly insulting to the monarchy. At the time of her arrest, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was giving a speech where he committed to promoting media freedom. Chiranuch faced up to 50 years in prison on the initial charges. She was arrested again on separate charges after attending "Internet at Liberty 2010," an international conference on media freedom. Amnesty International called Chiranuch a prisoner of conscience, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest, and Reporters Without Borders called for her immediate release.[90][91][92] Abhisit claimed that he was just enforcing the law against offensive media.

Thaksin Shinawatra

Abhisit was highly critical of Thaksin throughout his time in power. Through his spokesperson, Panithan Wattanayakorn, he accused Thaksin of funding the red-shirt UDD movement from abroad. When UDD leaders and Thaksin denied the accusation and demanded proof for the government's accusations, Deputy Premier Suthep noted that it still did not have any confirmation as to any transfers.[93][94] Afterwards, Matichon newspaper reported that "unnamed sources" at the Democrat Party accused numerous unnamed Thaksin-supporters of financing the movement: "S" who is a former Minister, "P" who is a real estate tycoon and former Minister, "P" who owns a beverage business, "S" who owns a department store, and "W" who is a lawyer.[95]

Abhisit has also denied the legitimacy of Thaksin’s leadership of the UDD and has refused to deal directly with Thaksin. Abhisit argued that Thaksin’s wealth and corrupt background were at odds with the UDD’s largely agrarian and working-class membership and ideologies, and that this hypocrisy undermined the red shirts’ demands for fairer politics led by a less elite government.[96]

In the days before the verdict of the Supreme Court's seizure of Thaksin's assets was announced, Abhisit announced that he would possibly forgive Thaksin if Thaksin showed remorse.[97]

Foreign relations

Japan

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada affirms strong ties between Japan and Thailand, showing that he still has confidence in the Thai economy. The meeting covers the exchange of ideas on different matters, relationships in trade and the investment of the two countries. forward.[98]

Cambodia

Preah Vihear and border conflict

Abhisit appointed People's Alliance for Democracy leader Kasit Piromya as Foreign Minister. Prior to his appointment, Kasit had led anti-Cambodia protests and called Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen a "gangster." He later wrote to Hun Sen, saying it was a misunderstanding, and the word he used meant "a person who is lionhearted, a courageous and magnanimous gentleman." In April 2009, "large-scale fighting" erupted between Thai and Cambodian troops amid the 900-year-old ruins of the Preah Vihear Hindu temple near the Cambodian border. At least two Thai soldiers and two Cambodian soldiers were killed. The Cambodian government claimed its army had killed at least four Thai soldiers and captured 10 more, but the Thai government denied that any Thai soldiers were killed or injured. Both armies blamed the other for firing first and denied entering the other's territory.[99][100]

Recall of ambassadors

On 4 November 2009, Cambodia announced that Thaksin Shinawatra had been appointed a special advisor to the Cambodian government and to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Thaksin had been residing in exile in Dubai, and continued to live there after the appointment. On 5 November 2009, Abhisit recalled Thailand's ambassador from Cambodia in protest.[101] Abhisit said Cambodia was interfering in Thailand's internal affairs and as a result all bi-lateral co-operation agreements would be reviewed.[101][101] In retaliation, Cambodia announced it was withdrawing its ambassador from Thailand.[102][103] Sok An, a member of the Council of Ministers and Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, said Thaksin's appointment is a decision internal to Cambodia.[103] "We are looking forward to learning from Thaksin's great economic experience and we are convinced that his experience will contribute to our country's economic development," said a Cambodia government spokesman.[104] The mutual withdrawal of ambassadors was the most severe diplomatic action to have occurred between the two countries since the Franco-Thai war of 1940-41 during which Thailand regained Preah Vihear.[103]

The increase in tensions between Cambodia and Thailand caused Abhisit's popularity to skyrocket, with support tripling according to one poll after diplomatic ties were downgraded.[105] However, his rise in popularity was short-lived, and soon fell dramatically.[106]

"Spy" controversy

On 11 November 2009, Sivarak Chutipong was arrested by Cambodian police for passing the confidential flight plans of Thaksin and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to Kamrob Palawatwichai, First Secretary of the Royal Thai Embassy in Cambodia. Sivarak was a Thai engineer working in Cambodia for Cambodia Air Traffic Service, the private firm which manages air traffic control in Cambodia.[107] Sivarak denied that he was a spy, and the Thai government claimed that he was innocent and that the incident was a Thaksin/Cambodian plot to further damage relations between the two countries. The Thai First Secretary was expelled from Cambodia. Sivarak demanded that former Firt Secretary Kamrob speak out and restore his damaged reputation by confirming he was not involved in a spy ring. Kamrob refused to provide comment to the press throughout the controversy, and Kasit's secretary, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, insisted that although that there was no misconduct on the part of the First Secretary or Sivarak, there would be no statement from Kamrob.[108] Sivarak's mother appeared often on Thai television, pleading for the government to assist her son.

Sivarak was later sentenced to jail for 7 years. Thaksin personally requested the Cambodian government to pardon Sivarak, and he was soon pardoned by King Norodom Sihamoni and expatriated. Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban later accused Sivarak of staging his own arrest in order to discredit the Abhisit government.[109] Former Thai spy chief and Foreign Minister Prasong Soonsiri concurred, claiming, "It has been a set-up from the beginning."[110]

On 18 December 2009, Jatuporn Prompan, a lawmaker from the Puea Thai party, revealed confidential memos sent from Kasit to Abhisit outlining a plot to assassinate Thaksin. Chawanon Intharakomansut, the secretary to the Thai Foreign Minister, said Sunday that while the memo did actually exist, Jatuporn had blown it out of proportion.[111]

Normalization of relations

In August 2010, Thaksin resigned as an economic advisor to the Cambodian government. Abhisit normalized relations with Cambodia. Both countries sent back their ambassadors[112][113][114]

Vietnam

Abhisit and the Prime Minister of Vietnam met on 10 July, 2009, to discuss how to address the global economic crisis. Abhisit arrived in Hanoi for an one-day visit with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyễn Tấn Dũng. The two reviewed an honor guard before heading for an hour-and-half talks behind closed doors.[115] "Your visit will contribute to expanding and deepening the friendship and multifaceted cooperation between Vietnam and Thailand," Dung told his guest during the five-minute photo opportunity.

In a regular press conference on 9 July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung told reporters that the two prime ministers were expected to discuss how each is dealing with the financial crisis,[116] discuss the rice trade, tourism, transport links and protection of the Mekong River.[117] Thailand is the world's leading exporter of the grain while Vietnam is ranked second. Thailand and Vietnam are important trading partners, and their bilateral trade reached $6.5 billion in 2008. Thailand also ranked ninth among foreign investors in Vietnam, having poured nearly $6 billion into the country. Vietnam, which has recorded average economic growth of 7 percent over the past decade, saw its economy expand only 3.9 percent in the first half of 2009.[118]

Saudi Arabia

In August 2008, the Department of Special Investigation announced that it had found a suspect for the murder of several Saudi Arabian diplomats. The "sensitive" case, which had been stalled for 20 years due to concerns that some powerful Thais would be implicated in a public investigation, had caused a severe strain on Thai-Saudi relations. "Abu Ali" (meaning "Father of Ali"), which might or might not be the suspect's real name, was described as an Arab. His whereabouts are unknown.[119] An arrest warrant was issued and the DSI sought the aid of Interpol in apprehending the suspect. The DSI also claimed that it had no evidence that the "blue diamond" ever existed in the first place. The blue diamond was at the center of the gems theft case that is presumed to have caused the murders.[120]

In August 2010, Abhisit promoted Lieutenant-General Somkid Boonthanom from chief of the Chiang Mai region to assistant national police chief. Somkid had earlier been indicted for the murder of Mohammad al-Ruwaili, a Saudi assigned to investigate the blue diamond theft. The Saudi embassy said in a statement:

The embassy is deeply concerned to learn that the high ranking officer accused in this case was further promoted in a manner that may affect the course [of] legal proceedings against the defendants... In light of these grave concerns, all current efforts and attempts by both countries to solve the pending issues directly affecting restoring bilateral relations may be seriously jeopardized.[121]

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said he would send a letter to the Saudis which would clarify the matter. Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya met Saudi chargé d'affaires Nabil Ashri and announced he had explained everything and no letter was necessary. Abhisit then said the Foreign Ministry would provide a written explanation that but that the letter had to be painstakingly translated to prevent any misinterpretation.[122] However, Abhisit then met with the chargé d'affaires Ashri and gave an interview to the press calling the Saudis misinformed. In an official statement, the Saudi's blasted Abhisit's rhetoric:

Mr Nabil Ashri expressed his astonishment to the news published about the said meeting with H.E. the Prime Minister of Thailand which portrayed the Charg? d’Affairs as “ill-informed” and according to H.E. Mr. Abhisit, that he seemed to have “insufficient information about the matter” of the promotion of Pol. Lt. Gen. Somkid Boonthanom.[123]

Somkid then announced that he would not accept Abhisit's promotion. Suthep praised Somkid for his sacrifice and said that “His decision will make it easy to solve the problem between Thailand and Saudi Arabia.”[124]

Political protests

During Abhisit’s tenure as Prime Minister, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a group formed to protest the 2006 military coup, staged several protests calling for Abhisit to dissolve the government and hold new elections. The largest gatherings occurred in April 2009 and from March to May 2010 – ultimately escalating into violent clashes between protestors and the military that left 91 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.[125][126][127]

April 2009 protests

In early April, the UDD staged a mass protest in Bangkok after former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said via video broadcast that members of the Privy council masterminded the 2006 military coup, and conspired with the military to ensure that Abhisit became Prime Minister. As the week-long Songkran (Thai New Year) holiday began, protests escalated in Bangkok. Fighting erupted between anti-government protesters, government supporters, and the general population.[128] Abhisit declared a state of emergency for Bangkok and surrounding areas due to heightened escalation of tension and denounced the anti-government protesters as "national enemies."[129] Abhisit also issued a decree that empowered the government to censor television broadcasts.[130] A television journalist reported that he was ordered not to show images damaging to the military or government.[131] Thaksin appeared on a D-Station television broadcast to appeal to the King Bhumibol to intervene and end the violence.[132] Legislation authorizing the use of emergency decrees was originally pushed through Parliament in 2005 by the Thaksin government, provoking charges of authoritarianism at the time by the Democrat Party.[133] Under the state of emergency, gatherings of more than five people were prohibited and the press was not permitted to present news which could incite worry.[134]

On 12 April, protesters surrounded Abhisit's limousine at the Interior Ministry in Bangkok and hurling objects at his windows. Abhisit made it out safely while one of his deputies was wounded by the protesters. Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayakorn said that Abhisit's inner circle viewed the attack as a well-coordinated assassination attempt, claiming that security footage of the incident showed men with masks and guns were positioned on the perimeter of the attack, apparently waiting for protesters to break through the car's bulletproof windows.[135] However, this view was not corroborated by security agencies.[citation needed]

In the pre-dawn of Monday April 13, Army soldiers cleared protesters blocking the main roads from the Din Daeng intersection near Victory Monument in central Bangkok. At least 70 people were injured.[136] [137][138] The same day, the government ordered the blocking of D Station, satellite news station that was broadcasting the clashes, claiming that the station was calling for protesters to gather in Bangkok. Several community radio stations were shut down and searched upon suspicion of supporting the UDD.[139] Violent clashes at numerous locations in Bangkok continued while arrest warrants were issued for Thaksin and 13 protest leaders. Some protest leaders voluntarily gave themselves in to police on 14 April 2009.[140] Government House protesters were identified and had their photographs taken prior to being released.[citation needed] Afterward, the Thai government issued warrants for dozens of other protest leaders and revoked Thaksin's ordinary passport.[141][citation needed]

According to government figures, more than 120 people were injured in the unrest, most of them UDD demonstrators although some military personnel, pro-government supporters, and members of the general public were also injured.[142] At least one UDD protester died from gunshot wounds sustained during the military's attack in Din Daeng, although the Army claimed the wound was not caused by their standard firearm. The UDD later claimed that at least six demonstrators were killed in the unrest and their bodies hauled away by the military; however, they had no evidence for their claim.[143] The dead bodies of two UDD protesters were found floating in the Chao Phraya river, their hands tied behind their backs and their bodies badly beaten, although police had yet to conclude whether their murders were politically motivated.[144] Abhisit aide Satit Wongnontaey claimed that two government supporters were shot dead by red shirted protesters in clashes in Din Daeng, although he had no evidence for his claim.[145] The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration estimated that it had incurred 10 million Baht (approximately 300,000 USD) in property damages, including 31 damaged and burned buses.[146] Standard & Poor's lowered Thailand's local currency rating to "A-" from "A", although Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij claimed this would increase the government's borrowing cost minimally.[147]

March–May 2010 protests

Abhisit enacted numerous censorship and security measures throughout February and March in order to suppress protests against his government.[citation needed]

The government cracked down on the protesters, causing nearly a hundred civilian deaths and thousands of injuries. Unrest rapidly spread throughout Thailand, and Abhisit launched a nation-wide campaign to censor and arrest dissenters.[citation needed]

On 26 February 2010, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions was scheduled to deliver its verdict on whether to seize Thaksin Shinawatra's 76 billion baht in assets that the military junta had frozen years earlier. Prior to the verdict, Abhisit established 38 security centers in the North and Northeast to guard against outbreaks of violence like those during the April 2009 protests. In total, about 20,000 security personnel were deployed.[148] Abhisit also escalated efforts to monitor community radio stations, which were often used by rural residents to voice their discontent and by activists to organize protests.[149]

On 7 February 2010, Abhisit's spokesperson compared anti-government leaders to "dogs" and vowed to use the National Telecommunications Commission to crack down on red shirt community radio stations. He noted that if the current law for the NTC cannot enforce the crackdown, the government would try to pass a special law that would make such a crackdown.[150] The NTC acting Secretary-General was also a member of the government-appointed Situation Monitoring Committee in the run up to Thaksin's February court verdict.[151] The government claimed to foreign diplomats and foreign chambers of commerce that the UDD would "spark violence" and "intensify its agitation and step up protests in Bangkok and around the country in order to disrupt the work of the government and the judiciary."[152] However, the UDD announced that it would not rally on 26 February, and announced a rally on 14 March.[153]

Abhisit stepped up security measures to suppress the UDD protest scheduled for Sunday 14 March.[citation needed] In the weeks prior to the protest more checkpoints were set up to inspect protester caravans entering Bangkok, especially those coming from UDD strongholds in the North and Northeast.[citation needed]

Abhisit informed the Democrat Party-led Bangkok Metropolitan Administration that he had intelligence of planned bomb attacks in at least two locations and grenade attacks in 30-40 locations in Bangkok.[154] Abhisit also claimed to have received intelligence that there was a terrorist threat of sabotage taking place on March 14. When questioned about the matter, Army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the Army had no such intelligence.[155]

On 9 March, Abhisit imposed the Internal Security Act from 11–23 March and relocated to CAPO.[156][157] A 50,000-strong security force was deployed on Bangkok.[158]

The 14 March protests were the largest in Thai history, and were peaceful.[159] However, Thailand's free-to-air TV channels, all controlled by the government or military, claimed that there were only 25,000 protesters.[160] There were dozens of bombings in Bangkok over the weeks, far from the protest areas, with nobody claiming responsibility and no arrests made. A Porsche was rammed into protester motorcycles at Rajprasong intersection, injuring several. In a separate incident, a woman rammed her car into a crowd of protesters, but drove away before she could be arrested.[161]

Negotiations between the protesters and the government failed to result in a resolution of the situation. Abhisit declared a state of emergency on the evening of 8 April.

On 10 April, a violent clash occurred when government troops unsuccessfully tried to take back control of the Phan Fah Bridge protest site.[162] Twenty-three people were killed in the conflict, including a Japanese cameraman, a number of uniformed soldiers.[163][164][165] More than 800 people were injured.[166] Troops used live rounds, rubber bullets, and tear gas in the clash while protesters used rocks, sticks, petrol bombs and, according to Abhisit, grenades. The military noted that uniformed soldiers died from cerebral edema (a swelling of the brain) after being hit on the head by thrown rocks.[167]

On April 16, security forces raided a hotel attempting to arrest protest leaders whom Suthep Thaugsuban called "terrorists." The protest leaders escaped before they could be captured.[168] That same day, Abhisit relieved Suthep from his security responsibilities and replaced him with the Commander of the Royal Thai Army General Anupong Paochinda.[169] Tensions continued to grow, as pro-government rallies started to appear alongside the anti-government ones. On 22 April, a series of explosions in Bangkok killed at least one person and injured more than 85 others, including four foreigners. At least some of the explosions were caused by grenades, which the government claimed were fired from the Red Shirt encampment.[170]

The main protest area at Ratchaprasong intersection was surrounded with armoured vehicles and snipers in early May.[171] Four months after the military crackdown, on the 4th anniversary of the 2006 military coup, the UDD held a peaceful commemoration at Ratchaprasong intersection. Despite a heavy police presence, an estimated 10,000 people attended the commemoration.[172]

As of September 2010, the Emergency Decree was still in force in Bangkok. However, Abhisit said that "ordinary people" were not affected by the decree.[173]

Relationship with PAD and UDD

On 21 April 2009, Abhisit's government launched a media war to dispute claims made by the UDD during the April protests. He also announced the public distribution of millions of VCDs documenting the government's views on the unrest. At the time, the government's emergency and censorship decrees were still in place.[174][175] The state of emergency, but not the censorship decree, was lifted on 24 April.[176]

Abhisit's treatment of the UDD prompted criticisms that he applied one standard to his opposition and another to the PAD. The Asian Human Rights Commission noted "The obvious differences in how the yellow shirts and red shirts have been treated will only encourage government opponents to resort to increasingly extralegal means to get their way." At the time, warrants had not yet been issued for the PAD's peaceful airport seizures that occurred months before, while warrants had been issued for the UDD hours after the violence erupted.[177] In an interview with the Financial Times, Abhisit said "I can understand [the UDD] feeling the cases against PAD have been slow. The problem is that PAD action didn't take place during my administration and the process that began to investigate." When the interviewer noted that the airport sieges ended just two weeks before Abhisit came to power, he claimed that "I have summoned the police chief and expressed my concern that the case is ruling slowly and they have made some progress."[178] The protestors demanded Abhisit to step down and call for a general election after the house of parliament voted Abhisit as Prime Minister after 235 to 198 win over General Pracha Promnok.[179] The voting by house representative was said to lack democracy since it does not come from the people’s vote. The voting is however, the same as how two previous prime minister, Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat was elected. [180][181]

Abhisit was Democrat Party leader during the PAD protests. After Samak Sundaravej was replaced by Somchai Wongsawat, the People’s Alliance for Democracy refused to stop their protests, claiming that Somchai was a proxy for Thaksin Shinawatra.[182][183][184] After he was named Prime Minister, Abhisit proposed five-point roadmap to national reconciliation.[185][186] When Abhisit was voted by House of Parliament 235 to 198 after Somchai Wongsawat was relieved from premiership for buying votes. PAD occasionally claimed Abhisit’s premiership was from their protest, leading to numerous demands from Abhisit, as the PAD believed that the Democrat Party owed favors to PAD. They were however denied by the Democrat Party.[citation needed] Abhisit said his priority was the people, focusing mainly on the interests of the people and lower class citizens through the “People’s Agenda” policy platform, and saying the government must be “honest and truly democratic government” without any conflict of interest.[187][188] Leading to PAD’s development of new political party “Thien Hang Dhama” which is later changed to “New Political Party” to drive their new “ideology” overlapping each other's political base.[189][190] Claiming that Democrat party only protects their own interest and ineffectively solving the country’s problem.[191]

Elections

In the first round of by-elections after the House of Representatives elected Abhisit Vejjajiva as the Prime Minister, Abhisit's coalition extended its majority by 20 seats out of 29 contested seats.[192] June by-elections in Sakon Nakhon were expected to be a shoo-in for the government-member Bhum Jai Thai Party due to its control over the powerful Ministry of Interior. However, Bhum Jai Thai was roundly defeated by the Thaksin-affiliated Puea Thai Party.[193]

File:Bkk election
Bangkok Election in August 2010 graph showing areas.

Elections were held for Councillors and District Councillors in August 2010 for the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, a jurisdiction where the Democrat Party traditionally dominated. The Democrat Party won receiving 45 seats for Bangkok Metropolitan Councillors, followed by Puea Thai Party with 15 Seats, and Independent Party with 1 seat. For District Councillors, Democrat Party won 210 seats, followed by Puea Thai Party with 39 Seats and Independent Party with 7 seats.

Scandals and criticisms

Corruption

The Abhisit government was charged in a few cases of corruption, particularly relating to spending under the Thai Khem Khaeng economic stimulus program. After much public pressure, Abhisit appointed Banlu Siripanich head of an investigative committee to investigate allegations within the Ministry of Public Health. Banlu's committee's accusations include:

  • Bribery by a supplier of ambulances
  • Irregularities in the purchase of UV fans
  • Overspending on construction of building
  • Inflated prices for machines and equipment.

After being alleged by Banlu to have involved in mismanagement of an 86 billion baht of government's budget received under Thai Khem Khaeng economic stimulus program, Public Health Minister and Democrat MP Witthaya Kaewparadai, Deputy Minister from Bhumjaithai Party Manit Nop-amornbodi (who was in charge of the projects) resigned to take responsibility for the procurement scandal.[194]

Flood victims in Phatthalung province became nauseous after eating canned fish products which were donated through the Social Development and Human Security Ministry. Opposition party spokesman, Prompong Nopparit accused Democrat Minister Vitoon Nambutr of corruption in the procurement of the fish. Democrat Minister Vitoon Nambutr insisted there was no irregularities and that the ministry did not procure them for distribution. However, he later resigned to take responsibility for this situation.[195][196][197]

Abhisit's government came under accusations that the 26 billion baht Sufficiency Economy Community project was tainted with corruption. Abhisit replied to the accusations by suggesting that the "alleged malpractice might have originated during the period when the office was in charge of managing small, medium, and large (SML) enterprises…. The SML project was created by the Thaksin Shinawatra government."[198]

Several cases of government corruption occurred under Abhisit's leadership, resulting in the resignation of his Social Development and Human Security Minister and Public Health Minister. Apirak Kosayodhin, the Democrat Party Governor of Bangkok, along with 3 ministers from opposition parties Thai Rak Thai and People's Power Party - a former premier Samak Sundaravej, former interior minister Bhokin Bhalakula and former commerce minister Wattana Muangsuk - were indicted by the National Counter Corruption Commission on 11 November 2008 for corruption in the purchase of 6.6 billion baht in fire-fighting equipment. Apirak resigned from his office on 13 November.

TPI illegal donation scandal

In early 2009, the Democrat Party was accused by the Opposition of receiving 258 million baht in illegal donations from businessman-turned-politician Prachai Leophairatana. Prachai was the founder of failed petrochemical firm TPI Polene (which was under rehabilitation under the Financial Institutions Development Fund) as well as advertising shell companies Messiah Business and Creation. In the lead-up to the 2005 general election, while Abhisit was Deputy Party Leader, TPI Polene allegedly transferred the funds to Messiah Business and Creation, which then transferred the funds to senior Democrat Party leaders and their relatives in batches of less than 2 million baht each to over 70 separate bank accounts (2 million baht is the maximum that banks can transfer without reporting to the Anti-Money Laundering Office).[199] The opposition claimed that the Democrats never reported the donation, which was far in excess to legal limits, to the Election Commission.[200] Abhisit denied the allegations, claiming that his party's accounts had been checked by auditors. Other Democrat Party leaders claimed that "the alleged donation never took place" and that the "party never obtained it."[201] Receiving and using an unlawful donation could result in the dissolution of the Democrat Party and the banning of its executives from political office for violating the Political Party Act.

The Opposition raised the issue in a debate of no-confidence, and accused Abhisit of approving false account reports for 2004 and 2005 to the EC and filing false information.[202] The government won the vote, despite the Bangkok Post calling the evidence against the Democrats "overwhelming" and even the pro-Democrat Nation called the Opposition's presentation "clear-cut."[203][204] However, the scandal was subsequently investigated by the Department of Special Investigation. The DSI prepared a 7,000 page report which it submitted to the Election Commission in early 2010. The EC claimed that the DSI report contained many holes.

Rohingya refugees

In January 2009, CNN investigations revealed that up to 1,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar had been captured by the Thai Navy, beaten, then towed out to sea without engines or navigational aids and with little food and water. Abhisit's initial response was to claim that the media reports were "exaggerated" and that the refugees would "sail on boats without engines or sink their ships so that authorities help them to get onshore." Army Commander Anupong Paojinda denied the reports of abuse.[205]

On 20 January, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) requested that the Thai government provide them access to the 126 surviving boat people in their custody.[206] Abhisit said he was "glad to work with international organisations" but that such organizations would have to work on a cooperative basis with proper Thai government procedures. The military said it had "no clear information" about refugees in its custody.[207]

Further media investigations revealed that refugees had very recently been cleared from a detention center but were nowhere to be found. A Thai Navy officer was interviewed, saying that "We have to take the engines off the boats or they will come back. The wind will carry them to India or somewhere."[208] Abhisit then promised a thorough military-led investigation, but simultaneously issued a blanket denial of abuse on behalf of the military. The investigation was led by the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the same unit in charge of refugee arrivals.[209]

The ISOC investigation cleared all the government officials involved. Consequently, ISOC continued to be in charge of refugee arrivals.[210]

Abhisit's deputy, Suthep Thaugsuban, suggested the entire situation was cooked up to besmirch Thailand's image.[211] Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that the CNN reports were incorrect and called for people not to "believe what the world says about Rohingya."[212][213]

UNHCR goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie criticised Thai government of ignoring the plight of Rohinyas and suggested that Thai government should take better care of the Burmese ethnics. The Foreign Ministry reprimanded the UNHCR, noting that the UNHCR had "no mandate" and saying that the matter should not be mentioned by it and its "guests."[214][215] Abhisit was criticized by both Thai and international commentators for defending the military at the expense of protecting the human rights of the refugees. "We are not going to see the Abhisit government going after the military because it was instrumental in his assumption of office," said political scientist Thitinan Pongsudhirak.[216][217]

Honours

See also

References

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  155. ^ The Nation, Sabotage threat: PM, 7 March 2010
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  157. ^ Dow Jones, Thai Cabinet Approves Imposition Of Internal Security Act, 9 March 2010
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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Chaovarat Chanweerakul
Acting
Prime Minister of Thailand
2008 – Present
Incumbent


Simple English

Abhisit Vejjajiva
File:Abhisit


Prime Minister of the Thailand
Incumbent
Assumed office 
17 December 2008
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Deputy Suthep Thuagsuban
Preceded by Chaovarat Chanweerakul

Born 3 August 1964
Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom [1]
Nationality Thai
Political party Democrat Party (TH)
Spouse Pimpen Vejjajiva
(m. 1988-present)
Children Prang Vejjajiva, Punnasit Vejjajiva[2]
Religion Buddhism
Signature File:Thai-PM-abhisit

Abhisit Vejjajiva ( English pronunciation (info • help); Thai: อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ (Thai pronunciation), born 3 August 1964 is the leader of the Democrat Party and 27th and current Prime Minister of Thailand.

After graduating from Eton, a famous public school in England, Abhisit get his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Oxford. He was elected to the Thai Parliament at the age of 27, and in 2008, became the country’s youngest-ever prime ministers at the age of 44 [3]

Abhisit became prime minister during global economic crisis and faced rising politic problems in the country. The government under Abhisit Vejjajiva introduce economic stimulus to “REVIVE THE THAI ECONOMY with transparency and accountability”. The Economic Plan is separated into two phrases, Stimulus Package 1 and stimulus Package 2.

Early Life and Family

Born in Newcastle, England, went to Eton Public school during his teenage life, before continuing his higher education at Oxford University. Abhisit received at Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) with first class honor and Master’s degree in Economics.

After graduation, Abhisit started his career life as lecturer at Oxford University in Economics before coming back to Thailand after receiving his master’s degree as a Lecturer at Thammasart University from 1990-1991. Abhisit’s “family is a circle of accomplished individuals”. His father, Professor Doctor [Athasit Vejjajiva], an ex-minister of public health and his mother, Professor Doctor [Sodsai Vejjajiva]. “One of his two sisters is a professor of child psychology, while the other is a leading Thai author.”

References








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