» Download Audio
By Ron Corben
14 January 2009
placed national reconciliation and economic recovery at the top of the government's program to end years of political discord on Wednesday. Mr. Abhisit also called for restoration of the rule of law.
|Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at Foreign Press Club in Bangkok, 14 Jan 2009|
The Thai prime minister said the new government's policies are aimed at ending what he called "artificial divisions" in the country between rural and urban areas, by proposing a plan for a grand reconciliation.
Speaking at a formal dinner for foreign correspondents, Mr. Abhisit said the political divisions have been about different perspectives people hold on the value of democracy. "On one side, they believe that democracy should be about majority rule so that voters, the average voters, concerned should count. But on the other side, they expect democracy to return a government that practices good governance that is
transparent and that is accountable. I will prove that you can have both," he said.
Thailand has been wracked by political tensions over the past four years, during the term in office of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Elected in 2001, Mr. Thaksin's built political support with populist economic programs in the country's rural areas through low cost health care and low cost loans to villages for rural development.
After five years in office, Mr. Thaksin faced increasing street protests from Thailand's urban middle class that accused him of corruption and abuse of power. He was ousted from government in a coup in September 2006.
But politicians aligned with Mr. Thaksin won elections in December 2007. While Mr. Thaksin returned to Thailand in early 2008, he later fled the country in the face of corruption charges. He now lives abroad.
Thailand suffered political unrest throughout 2008, including street protests, and the occupation of a government administrative building and the two main airports in Bangkok.
Last month, after a court found that the pro-Thaksin party had violated electoral laws, coalition partners gave their support to Mr. Abhisit -- leader of the Democrat Party. Speaking on Wednesday, Mr. Abhisit said he hoped to heal Thailand's political divisions.
"You can have a government that responds to ordinary people's needs without getting involved with corruption, without abusing power, without violating the rights of the people or your opponents. And if we can prove that, that would truly be a grand reconciliation of the diverse people that make up this great country of Thailand," he said.
Pro-Thaksin groups had vowed to maintain protests against the government. But recent bi-elections over the weekend indicate a possible swing in support for Mr. Abhisit's coalition.
Mr. Abhisit also spoke of the government's economic recovery program aimed at the recession now sweeping global markets.
The government's stimulus package, worth more than $3 billion, is intended to boost domestic consumption as well as bolster programs for the rural sector, subsidies for basic services and education, and support for vulnerable groups such as the elderly.