- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

BANGKOK (AP) - Thailand’s three-month-old government survived a no-confidence vote Saturday, but analysts said it is likely to face continuing street demonstrations by loyalists of exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and five of his Cabinet ministers won by comfortable margins, with Abhisit tallying 246-176 ballots with 12 abstentions in the House of Representatives.

The opposition Phuea Thai Party, which supports Thaksin, initiated the no-confidence motion but failed to deliver any knockout punches as it criticized the government for poor handling of the economy and accused it of supporting the protesters who occupied Bangkok’s airports last year.

“The prime minister thinks that the government has gained more stability, and it will help him work with more ease,” government spokesman Panithan Wattanayakorn said after the vote.

Abhisit’s Democrat Party controls a majority ruling coalition in the lower house.

The opposition said the vote was not surprising, but they were “satisfied” with their performance and “will continue to keep close watch on the government,” said Phuea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit.

Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said the opposition knew it would lose but used the debate to pave the way for more demonstrations by the so-called “red shirts,” Thaksin supporters who accuse the government of coming to power through undemocratic means.

“It’s likely that red-shirted protesters will continue to attack the government outside the Parliament,” said Somchai Phagaphasvivat, a political scientist at Thammasat University. “But I think the public in general is still satisfied with Mr. Abhisit’s administration.”

Also under fire were Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanich and his deputy, and Interior Minister Chavarat Chanveerakul and his deputy.

Opposition members denounced the foreign minister Friday as unfit to serve in government because he supported unruly street demonstrations that culminated in the seizure of Bangkok’s two airports.

Thailand was destabilized last year by months of protests by both supporters and opponents of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup for alleged corruption and abuse of power.

Friday’s debate focused on Kasit, a vocal supporter of the anti-Thaksin protesters whose actions helped oust previous pro-Thaksin governments.

“He is a divisive figure who was part of a movement that has damaged the country’s reputation,” opposition lawmaker Somkid Balthaisong said during the televised debate. “He has no place in the government.”

Kasit spoke on several occasions at rallies by the protesters, who occupied the prime minister’s office compound for three months and shut down Bangkok’s two airports for a week. He later hailed the blockade _ which stranded more than 250,000 travelers _ as an “innovation in public protests.”

The government also faced criticism over its management of the economy.

Chalerm Yoobamrung, chief of Phuea Thai’s lawmakers, led the debate for the opposition accusing Abhisit and his economic team of lacking the experience and ability to steer the economy through the global financial turmoil.

The economy’s performance in the first quarter is expected to be equal to or worse than the fourth quarter of last year, when it contracted 4.3 percent.

Abhisit’s government took control after a court ruled that the previous pro-Thaksin ruling party was guilty of election fraud. Critics say the court ruling and Abhisit’s appointment followed pressure from the military and other unelected groups.

But the government spokesman said the no-confidence debate will prove its democratic credentials to the international community. “They should be able to see that the Thai parliament was not under pressure by the military or any particular group,” Panithan said.

Thaksin, who remains popular in the countryside, fled into exile last year and has been convicted in absentia of violating a conflict of interest law.

His supporters plan to hold a rally next Thursday at the prime minister’s office, the site of last year’s three-month siege by their rivals.

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