Besieged Thai government shifts venue


Bangkok : Thailand’s besieged cabinet Tuesday shifted the venue for delivering its policy statement from Parliament Building, which is surrounded by anti-government protestors, to the foreign ministry, in an effort to launch their new administration.

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“We will commence as soon as a quorum of legislators is met,” said Bulanat Samuttalak, spokesman for the Democrat Party which leads Thailand’s latest coalition government.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was forced to postpone the reading of his government’s policy statement Monday after thousands of red-shirted members of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) surrounded Parliament Building to prevent legislators from entering the premises.

Under the Thai constitution a new government must issue its policy statement within 30 days of being formed, as the first step of its administration.

Bulanat denied that it was against the constitution to issue the policy statement at the foreign ministry instead of parliament.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “The constitution only states that the policy statement has to be submitted to all members of parliament within 30 days after the government is formed. We are doing so within 10 days.”

A new coalition government under Abhisit, who heads the Democrat party, was officially endorsed by Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej Dec 20.

Abhisit’s new government has been widely criticised by the followers of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the so-called “red shirts”, as lacking legitimacy since it failed to win the most seats in the Dec 23, 2007, general election.

The Democrat-led coalition was patched together after former prime minister Somchai Wongsawat was forced to step down when the previously ruling People Power Party was disbanded by a constitution court ruling Dec 3.

Somchai, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, was Thailand’s second prime minister of 2008. His predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, a close political ally of Thaksin, lost the premiership on Sep 9 after the constitution court ruled he had broken charter rules by hosting a
television cooking show in his spare time.

The cabinets of Samak and Somchai were constantly under attack by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a loose coalition of groups adamantly opposed to the return to power by Thaksin, a former billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister between 2001 and 2006.

The “red shirts” of the DAAD are the counterpart to the “yellow shirts”, or followers of the PAD, which finally toppled the previous government after they took Bangkok’s two airports hostage for a week, causing more than $3 billion in damage to Thailand’s economy.

In laying siege to parliament, the DAAD has imitated the tactics of the PAD, which tried to block the former coalition government under ex-premier Somchai from launching its administration by staging a mass rally outside parliament Oct 7, blocking legislators from entering the building.

That siege ended in bloodshed as police tried to disperse the PAD with tear-gas canisters, killing one protestor and injuring hundreds of others.