In his first national policy speech, Thailand's
new prime minister has given priority to economic recovery and called for
national unity. But parliament was forced to convene at the Foreign Ministry
after anti-government protesters maintained a blockade the legislature.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva begins his policy speech Tuesday,
before going on to say the government will provide additional funds to villages
to develop their infrastructure. The new administration plans to spend over $8
billion to stimulate the economy.
The economy, dependent on exports and
tourism, is expected to contract because of the global slowdown and domestic
Mr. Abhisit's speech, postponed from Monday, was
relocated at the last moment to the Foreign Ministry after anti-government
protesters refused to end their siege of parliament.
The protesters, who
support former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, consider Mr. Abhisit's
two-week-old government illegal. They demand fresh general elections. The
pro-Thaksin opposition party boycotted the prime minister's speech
Sirichok Sopha, a member of parliament from Mr. Abhisit's
Democrat Party, says the government's main goal is to ease political tensions
and revive the economy.
"It's about unity, that's the most important
thing, to get the people of Thailand to unite and to understand that Khun [Mr.]
Abhisit is the prime minister of every Thai whether it's anti-government or
pro-government," said Sirichok. "We will try to deliver our economic stimulus
package, telling Thai people what we'll do through this economic crisis."
Mr. Abhisit's coalition came to power after several allies of a
pro-Thaksin party split to join with the Democrats.
Chris Baker, a
historian and writer about Thai politics, says while the new government will
continue to face pressure from Mr. Thaksin's supporters, it is likely to survive
into the immediate future.
"Certainly if it can get through this current
hurdle and the next few weeks, it will probably survive and hang on to grim
death, but it could be there for some time," he said.
The country is sharply divided between groups
that favor or oppose Mr. Thaksin and his allies. For nearly six months,
anti-Thaksin groups held daily protests, ending with an eight-day blockade of
Bangkok's airports a few weeks ago. The blockade stranded up to 300,000 tourists
and hurt exports, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic
Mr. Thaksin, ousted in a coup two years ago, remains popular with
the rural poor and urban working class. But the urban middle class and educated
accuse him of corruption. He fled Thailand to avoid corruption charges.