News / Asia

Thai Government Wins No-Confidence Vote

Ron Corben

Thailand's coalition government has survived a no-confidence vote, after debate that focused on the recent anti-government clashes that left more than 80 people dead.  Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva won the support of 246 members of the 480-seat House, but the debate left divisions within Thailand's government.

The debate during the past two days was often acrimonious, as the government and the opposition focused on the bloodshed that occurred last month as the military ended two months of anti-government protests.

The demonstration, and the operation to clear out the so-called Red-Shirt protesters camp in central Bankgok, left 88 people dead and almost 2,000 injured.  The opposition Puea Thai Party accused the government of using excessive force.  They also accused Mr. Abhisit and some Cabinet members of corruption and of insulting Thailand's revered monarchy.

Puea Thai leader Chalerm Yoobamrung accused Mr. Abhisit of acting like a dictator, comparing him with past Thai strongmen as well as German dictator Adolf Hitler.  

Chalerm says the crackdown resulted in more deaths than in 1992, when a government led by General Suchinda Krayprayoon suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations.

But a spokesman for the governing Democrat Party, Barunaj Smutharak, says the debate highlighted democracy after the tensions raised by the protests.

"I think it sends a signal that parliament(ary) democracy is back in this country," Barunaj said. "The government has also had this opportunity to directly communicate with the public the events that transpired in Thailand ... and appropriate measures that the country has undertaken in order to restore peace in the country."

The government denies using excessive force and blames the protesters for instigating the bloodshed.  As troops broke up the protest camp, some demonstrators set more than 30 buildings on fire throughout the city.

During the debate, Mr. Abhisit promised an independent investigation of the violence, and stressed his plans to heal the divisions in Thai society.

Five Cabinet members who also faced impeachment votes won by smaller margins, in part because of rifts among smaller parties in the ruling coalition.

Observers expect Mr. Abhisit to make changes to his Cabinet as a result.

Kraisak Choonhavan, another member of the Democrat Party, says the government was hurt by the debate and needs to press ahead with reforms to achieve national reconciliation.

"Well, seriously we have not come out of the - I would say hell hole yet," Kraisak said. "I think there will be demands from the Democrat Party to make more significant reforms.  Surely after every debate there is a certain harm that has been done."

The protesters, who mostly are from poor rural areas and the urban working class, demanded immediate elections.  They consider Mr. Abhisit's government to be illegitimate, and say it is backed by the military and a Bangkok elite that ignores their concerns. Their leaders rejected an offer for November elections.

The red shirts and the Puea Thai Party are aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.  He was ousted in a coup four years ago and now lives overseas to avoid a prison sentence for corruption. The government has charged him with terrorism and say he supported violent elements among the protesters, charges Mr. Thaksin denies.

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