Thailand to open new parliament
BANGKOK: Thailand’s new parliament is to officially open on Monday, faced with the daunting challenge of bringing stability to the kingdom after five years of political turmoil.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn will preside over the opening ceremony in the capital Bangkok in the late afternoon, the palace has said, allowing the 500-seat lower house chamber to get to work later in the week.
Within days, MPs are expected to vote in the country’s first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra of the Puea Thai party, which on July 3 won a crushing electoral victory to take power from the pro-establishment Democrats.
Yingluck will take to the helm almost five years after her brother, the deeply divisive Thaksin Shinawatra, was ousted as premier in a military coup.
He now lives abroad to escape a jail term for corruption.
Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun said 44-year-old Yingluck, who is widely seen as a proxy for her brother, had shown surprising charisma since her electoral success and could become “a very capable prime minister”.
But he said the challenges facing the premier-in-waiting, a political novice, are formidable.
“I think the honeymoon period of Yingluck will be very short. She has so many obstacles in front of her,” said Pavin, of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Thailand’s political landscape became increasingly polarised following the 2006 coup, with other Thaksin allies removed from power by the courts and paralysing rallies by both pro- and anti-Thaksin camps.
They culminated in mass demonstrations by his “Red Shirt” followers in Bangkok last April and May, which ended with a military assault and more than 90 people dead.
Thaksin is wanted on terrorism charges linked to the unrest.
Yingluck is expected to face pressure from the Red Shirts, many of whom support Thaksin for his populist policies during his 2001-2006 rules. They are likely to demand justice over last year’s violence and push for their leaders to be given key positions.
The new government will also need to appease those among the Bangkok-based elite who backed Thaksin’s ouster and believe his style of leadership was authoritarian and corrupt.
Economic concerns have meanwhile been raised over the potential impact of Yingluck’s vote-grabbing promises, such as a hike in the minimum wage that the Bank of Thailand has warned could stoke inflation.
Last week, the Election Commission endorsed dozens of winning candidates from the national polls, bringing the total approved to 496 – passing the 95 per cent threshold needed by law for parliament to convene.
The vote body earlier dismissed allegations against Yingluck that said banned politicians were involved in her campaign.
Yingluck has formed a dominating six-party coalition that will hold about three-fifths of the seats in the lower chamber, where MPs’ first task will be to elect a house speaker, expected on Tuesday.
The Puea Thai agreed Monday to nominate a former deputy house speaker and veteran politician, Somsak Kiatsuranond, an MP in northeastern Khon Kaen province, said party leader Yongyuth Vichaidit.