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Thai Prime Minister Says Economy Back on Track

In his speech, Abhisit Vejjajiva says the outlook is improving, with official data showing a four-point-two percent economic growth, in the fourth quarter.

The Thai prime minister - marking his government's first year in office during turbulent economic and political times - says recovery is underway and that he will call new elections only when the economy has strengthened. But opposition parties and analysts say the government is facing criticism about efforts to stimulate the economy and dealing with corruption.

In a special television broadcast, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said economy recovery is gaining strength going into 2010, after a difficult time.

In his speech, Mr. Abhisit said the government had faced several problems in the past year - especially the challenges caused by the global economic crisis. But he says the outlook is improving, with official data showing a four-point-two percent economic growth, in the fourth quarter.

He also pointed to lower than expected unemployment - around half the rate it was at the beginning of the year.

The government came to office in December, 2008, after splits from within the then-governing Puea Thai Party coalition government that was aligned with the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin, who remains in exile, faces corruption charges and has been sentenced to a two-year jail term. He says the charges are politically motivated.

Thai politics has remained turbulent since 2005, as groups emerged to oppose Mr. Thaksin when he was in power. He was ousted in a coup in 2006, but parties supporting him were returned to office in late 2007.

Mr. Abhisit, leader of the Democrat Party, heads a six-party coalition government that came to power after splits emerged within the pro-Thaksin Puea Thai Party government. It has the backing of the military and pro-monarchy People's Alliance for Democracy.

Thailand's political troubles coincided with the global downturn, that resulted in the Thai economy contracting in the first half of the year. But government spokesman Panitan Wattanaygorn says both the economy and politics have now stabilized.

"Over the course of the 12 months, the economic crisis and the political crisis have now been stabilized, he said. "In fact, we are moving forward. The Thai society is becoming more stable and more manageable. But we're not denying that we still have a lot more to do."

But a spokesman for the opposition Puea Thai Party, Kudeb Saikrajang, criticizes the government's performance saying it had earned "low marks" on economic management. He accuses the administration of corruption in it handling of stimulus programs to revive the economy.

"Corruption is there, in many programs, and it is very obvious that's why we don't give a good grade to the government in this field. So we can say in conclusion the government fails to stimulate the economy and also fails to curb corruption in using the money," said Kudeb.

The opposition is calling for the government to return power to the people by calling new elections to end the current political tensions in the country.

Mr. Abhisit says more attention is needed to address the problem of corruption, as well as an ongoing insurgent violence in Southern Thailand's largely Muslim provinces.

The prime minister says new elections will only be called once constitutional amendments had been made and the economy is again on a sound footing.