Oxford-educated patrician could be next Thai PM
By DENIS D. GRAY,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 25 minutes ago
BANGKOK, Thailand - An Oxford-educated patrician with movie-star looks has suddenly emerged from Thailand's political chaos as the front-runner for the prime minister's job.
But Abhisit Vejjajiva, who heads the opposition Democrat Party, so far has lacked both the common touch needed to woo the vital rural masses and the gloves-off aggression so handy in Thailand's political ring.
The Democrats have long been the archrival of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the pivotal figure in recent Thai politics. They mustered the support of smaller parties and defectors from the ruling coalition of Thaksin allies that collapsed last week in the wake of mass demonstrations that paralyzed the government since August.
Thaksin, who fled the country after being toppled by a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption, still has close links to his loyalists and enjoys high popularity in the impoverished countryside.
The Democrat Party called Monday for an emergency parliamentary session to prove it has enough lawmakers behind it to form the next government with Abhisit at its head.
The 44-year-old politician has been close to the prime minister's office before, but never made it. Now, he is clearly the No. 1 candidate, apparently supported by the powerful military and businesspeople fed up with the protests and ineffectual leadership that have decimated the country's key tourism sector.
Abhisit, from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origin, was born in England and educated in the hallowed halls of Eton and Oxford, where he earned an honors degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Both his parents were medical professors.
He joined the country's oldest party, the Democrats, in 1992 and at 27 became one of the youngest ever members of Parliament. He rose in the party ranks and in popularity, especially among the educated in Bangkok who took to his clean record, polite demeanor, articulate if somewhat bland speeches and good looks.
Abhisit assumed the party's leadership in 2005 and a year later the Democrats boycotted elections called by Thaksin, saying they lacked legitimacy because the prime minister was merely seeking to divert public attention from scandals and corruption allegations against him.
Thaksin's party won, but he was toppled in a military coup later that year. However, his allies remained strong and their new People Power Party defeated Abhisit's Democrats in December 2007 elections.
"He is well equipped on paper but he has not been able to connect to the grass roots," political scientist Thitinan Pongsidhirak said at the time. "He has not been able to widen and broaden his appeal to become a national candidate for prime minister."
Abhisit's rival and the eventual prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, likened him to "an unripe mango," deeming him too young to lead.
During the ensuing political turmoil, the Democrat Party voiced support for the main anti-government movement, the People's Alliance for Democracy, but held back from joining the sometimes-violent street demonstrations.
If Abhisit becomes prime minister, he will be seen by adversaries and others as being all too willing to benefit from a political mess that his party did nothing to help solve.
In recent years, the party maintained its strongholds of Bangkok and southern Thailand but made little inroad into the populous, poor northeast, where elections are normally won or lost, often through massive vote-buying.
Many Thais, especially in the countryside, also favor earthy, charismatic politicians, even if they happen to be corrupt, authoritarian and devoid of any political ideologies.
Abhisit, who counts "Myth of Sisyphus" by French existential novelist Albert Camus among his favorite books, lacks such attributes, whereas Thaksin had them in abundance.
Chris Baker, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said Thaksin stage-managed "a kind of political drama" when he traveled through the countryside, talking the farmers' language and lending an ear to their daily hardships.
"It's very difficult to imagine Abhisit in that same kind of performance with the same kind of results. He's a rather cool character. Thaksin is hot and open," Baker said. "Of course he (Abhisit) can change. Power changes people enormously."
Associated Press writers Mike Casey and Ambika Ahuja contributed to this report.
Recommend this article
Average (1 vote)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: Asia Pacific
Lawsuit over China tainted milk rejectedAP - 22 minutes ago
Thai parties locked in fierce struggle for powerAFP - 43 minutes ago
11—year—old crowned Junior World Mental Mathematics ChampionChannel NewsAsia - 47 minutes ago
Pakistan arrests suspected Mumbai plotterAP - 52 minutes ago
Sri Lanka seizes bunkers outside rebel capitalAP - 1 hour 9 minutes ago
Most Popular – Asia Pacific
Financial crisis tipped to cut cost of air travel
Girl, 8, among 17 dead in Manila shoot-out: police
Oil price falls below $40
Climate change: Sci-fi solutions no longer in the margins
Vinnie Jones gets into bar fight over role in X-Men
View Complete List »