Abhisit Wins Parliament Confidence Vote Sparked by Deadly Bangkok Protest
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva won the backing of lawmakers for his handling of an army operation to end two months of anti-government protests in Bangkok in which at least 87 people were killed.
Legislators voted 246 to 186 in a confidence vote today, reflecting the majority he attained in December 2008 after a court disbanded the ruling party linked to former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The billionaire and his allies, winners of the past four elections, have agitated for a fresh vote ever since Abhisit took power.
During the two-day confidence debate, the government and opposition blamed one another for the protest violence, exacerbating divisions that emerged after the army ousted Thaksin in a 2006 coup. Abhisit has called on the military to end political protests twice during his 18 months in office and kept Bangkok under emergency rule since April 7.
The parliamentary debate “doesn’t contribute to reconciliation but maybe it’s an occasion to let off steam,” said Prudhisan Jumbala, a political science lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University. “Abhisit is going to stay for the sheer lack of a credible alternative.”
Eleven lawmakers abstained and 21 didn’t vote. Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban and two other ministers also survived confidence motions today. Abhisit indicated after the votes that he may shuffle his Cabinet.
Thailand’s political turmoil prompted the central bank to keep its benchmark interest rate at the lowest level since July 2004 today, as forecast by all 13 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Thailand has declined to follow Malaysia, Australia and India in raising borrowing costs this year even as a rebound in exports helped the economy expand the most in 15 years last quarter.
Economic growth this year may be 1.1 percentage points lower than forecast as the unrest cost as much as 145 billion baht ($4.46 billion), Satit Rungkasiri, a finance ministry official, said last month. Demonstrators rioted on May 19 after the army moved to end the protests, torching a range of buildings including 10 branches of Bangkok Bank Pcl and a prime store of Central Pattana Pcl, Thailand’s biggest shopping mall operator.
Abhisit rescinded an offer for a Nov. 14 election and ordered stronger military action after protesters failed to disperse by a May 12 deadline. He said on May 29 it would be “more difficult” to hold an election by year’s end and pledged to set up neutral bodies to probe the protest killings and recommend constitutional changes.
The baht is the second-best performer against the dollar since the protests began on March 12 among the 10 most actively traded Asian currencies excluding the yen, gaining 0.3 percent. Thailand’s SET Index has gained 3.3 percent in that time, compared with a 9.5 percent decline in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index.
Thaksin and his allies won the past four elections with support from the northeast, Thailand’s poorest region, which is home to a third of its 66 million people. Abhisit’s Democrat party, which draws most of its backing from Bangkok and the south, last won the most seats in a nationwide vote in 1992.
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