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Profile: Abhisit Vejjajiva

Abhisit Vejjajiva (12 December 2008)
Abhisit Vejjajiva hails from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origin

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is the English-born, Oxford-educated 44-year-old leader of Thailand's Democrat Party.

Young and photogenic, though not known as particularly dynamic, he has a reputation for "clean politics".

Distinctly upper-class, Mr Abhisit hails from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origin. Both his parents were medical professors.

He was born in the British city of Newcastle in 1964 and educated at England's top public school, Eton. He then went on to gain a degree in politics, philosophy and economics (PPE) at Oxford University.

Mr Abhisit's support is drawn mainly from southern Thailand and from Bangkok's educated middle-classes. He has had less success in attracting the support of working class and rural Thais.

In 1992, Mr Abhisit joined Thailand's oldest party, the Democrats and, at the age of 27, entered parliament as one of its youngest ever members. Having tried and failed to become party leader in 2001, he eventually got the post in 2005.

Championing a raft of populist policies, Mr Abhisit campaigned under the slogan "Putting People First".

The Democratic Party failed to win power at national elections, but in December 2008 the Constitutional Court found the ruling party, led by allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, guilty of electoral fraud and banned it.

Amid the turmoil of the airport blockade caused by anti-Thaksin protesters, a few Thaksin loyalists changed sides.

This enabled Mr Abhisit to form a new government and become the next prime minister without calling elections.

The Democrats are not openly allied to one group of protesters or the other.

But in the past the party has been closely associated with elements of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), whose protests helped depose Mr Thaksin and his allies.

Mr Abhisit was criticised for his choice of foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, who was an open supporter of the PAD movement and its airport blockade.

Anti-corruption platform

While not entirely ditching the liberal reforms of "Thaksinomics" - a term used to refer to the economic set of policies of the exiled former leader - Mr Abhisit has argued for a more statist approach.

Among other things, Mr Abhisit has advocated free healthcare, a higher minimum wage, and free education, including textbooks and milk for nursery-school children.

Thaksin Shinawatra and his wife, Pojaman (31 July 2008)
Mr Abhisit opposed the Thai military when it overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra

He has also been a consistent campaigner against corruption.

When Mr Thaksin called a snap election in February 2006, Mr Abhisit's campaign pitch was that he was "prepared to become a prime minister who adheres to the principle of good governance and ethics, not authoritarianism".

Later that year, he opposed the military when it overthrew Mr Thaksin in a coup.

"We cannot and do not support any kind of extra-constitutional change, but it is done. The country has to move forward and the best way forward is for the coup leaders to quickly return power to the people and carry out the reforms they promised," he said at the time.

The patrician also said he expected high standards of probity from his party and any government he led.

Going beyond the current transparency rules for Thai MPs, he said he would require all future Democrat Party representatives to declare their assets and any involvement in private companies. Currently, those measures apply only to cabinet members.

Academic

However, that has not shielded his government, or party, from corruption allegations, including claims of a cover-up of illegal donations by a petrochemical firm.

Before entering parliament, Mr Abhisit had a brief academic career. After Oxford, he taught at Thailand's Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy.

Later, he returned to Oxford to study for a Master's degree. He then taught economics at Thammasat University before studying law at Ramkhamhaeng University.

Mr Abhisit's family is a circle of accomplished individuals. One of his two sisters is a professor of child psychology, while the other is a leading Thai author.

Mr Abhisit's wife is a dentist-turned-mathematics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children.

Among the chinks in the Abhisit armour are his failure, so far, to win the popular vote and the impression that his good looks tend to outshine his sometimes rather bland political pronouncements.

In March 2010, he was spirited away to a barracks when red-shirted opposition protesters marched on Bangkok for days of mass rallies, denouncing him as an illegitimate leader.

The prime minister may find that only the popular mandate of a national election win will ultimately silence his critics.



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