Senior minister in Thai protests

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Correspondents in Bangkok | December 22, 2008

Article from:  The Australian

THAILAND’s new cabinet is already under pressure over the Foreign Minister’s ties to the protesters who hijacked the capital’s airports.

The Western-educated Kasit Piromya, 64, appeared at rallies organised by the People’s Alliance for Democracy, which staged an eight-day blockade of Suvarnabhumi international airport last month.

The airport closure left an estimated 350,000 people stranded, and new Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has said the protesters must be held legally accountable for their actions.

The PAD, whose earlier demonstrations against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra preceded his overhthrow by a military coup in 2006, took to the streets in May, accusing the Government of acting as a proxy for Thaksin.

“I want to tell him (Thaksin) he will not win this fight. We will not step back,” Mr Kasit said at a protest rally this year near Government House, which the group besieged in late August.

Mr Kasit has defended his role in the protests, saying he joined the demonstrators “to help society have good governance”.

“Joining the PAD was not a sin because millions of people also joined it to help uproot corruption,” he was quoted as saying in The Bangkok Post over the weekend.

Mr Kasit, a graduate of Georgetown University, began his career at the ministry in 1968 and has held ambassadorial roles in Germany, Japan and the US.

Despite the controversy surrounding his appointment, Mr Kasit’s experience has made him a key player in Mr Abhisit’s cabinet, which has been criticised for the number of relatively inexperienced politicians.

After being announced by Mr Abhisit late on Saturday, the cabinet went to work yesterday to boost reconciliation and revive the economy.

Key ministers from the Democrat Party met to discuss policy matters before today’s swearing-in ceremony in front of the king.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej signed a royal command approving the ministers on Saturday after Mr Abhisit won a parliamentary vote to bring a Democrat-led coalition into power in Thailand.

Of the 36 cabinet posts, 24 ministers are serving in government for the first time. Heading the economic team is finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, who formerly worked for investment bank JPMorgan Chase.

As a graduate from the same Oxford class as Thailand’s prime minister, new finance minister Korn Chatikavanij reinforces the traditional elite’s return to power in the kingdom.

But Mr Korn and Mr Abhisit will need to build on their solidarity to face the onslaught of global recession, sluggish domestic demand and angry protests by the masses of poor Thaksin supporters.

Mr Korn brings more practical experience in finance to bear than Mr Abhisit, but the longstanding colleagues are otherwise from the same mould – both 44-year-old Oxford graduates raised in English private boarding schools.

“They’re from the same background – high-level elite families, very much establishment,” said political analyst Michael Nelson.

Mr Abhisit, the leader of the Democrat Party, went to expensive Eton school, while Mr Korn attended the elite Winchester College, before both went on to study politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford.

While Mr Abhisit has focused on academia, Mr Korn began a finance career in Britain before returning to Thailand in 1988 to set up investment house Jardine Fleming Thanakom, aged just 24.

He went on to work at JPMorgan before leaving to run for political office in 2004 – although the experience can only be of limited help in his new post, said Mr Nelson, from Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

Meanwhile, Thaksin supporters of have vowed to rally on Sunday before moving to parliament when Mr Abhisit gives his first policy address.

AFP

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