December 15, 2008 in City

Thai opposition leader elected prime minister

By AMBIKA AHUJA Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand – Parliament chose opposition party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Thailand’s prime minister today following months of political chaos, as supporters of the former government tried to blockade lawmakers in the building.

The articulate, Oxford-educated politician, who heads the Democrat Party, gathered 235 votes against 198 by former national police chief Pracha Promnok, a loyalist of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The lower house vote followed six months of instability caused by anti-government and anti-Thaksin demonstrations that culminated last month with a weeklong takeover of Bangkok’s two airports, and the selection of a new prime minister had been expected to calm the country’s politics, at least temporarily.

However, several hundred Thaksin supporters tried to block the gates of Parliament in a last-ditch attempt to halt the result.

“We are not going to accept this. (Abhisit) did not win the election,” Sukhum Wongprasit said in a fiery speech outside Parliament. “We will blockade the gates of Parliament so they won’t be able to come out.”

Police locked the gates from inside amid security concerns as some protesters screamed out in anger while others tried to break into the compound. Protesters later threw up dozens of metal barricades as hundreds of policemen in riot gear formed lines to block them from entering.

Following the vote, Abhisit thanked fellow lawmakers and the public but said he would not talk about politics until he was officially endorsed as prime minister by the constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The chamber normally has 480 members, but because of vacancies currently numbers 437. One MP died on the eve of the voting.

Despite today’s protest outside Parliament, analysts foresee relative stability in coming months following political chaos and the airport siege, which ended after a court ruling on Dec. 2 dissolved the ruling People’s Power Party and two coalition partners. It also handed a five-year political ban to former premier Somchai Wongsawat, who is Thaksin’s brother-in-law.

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