Thai PM survives no-confidence vote after turmoil

Thai PM survives no-trust vote on Wednesday after months of anti-govt protests.

Bangkok: Thailand`s beleaguered Prime Minister survived a no-confidence vote Wednesday called after months of anti-government protests crippled the capital and street battles left nearly 90 people dead.
Opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Vejjajiva of brutally supressing the protests. Abhisit, defending himself during debate in Parliament on Tuesday, promised there would be an independent investigation into whether the army used undue force to clear demonstrators from Bangkok`s streets.

Street clashes, grenade attacks and sniper fire over a 10-week period killed 89 people and wounded some 1,800. The months of political turmoil cost the country billions of dollars.

The thousands of Red Shirt protesters had been calling for Abhisit to dissolve Parliament immediately and call new elections, saying his government came to power illegitimately and represented a Bangkok elite indifferent to the plight of the rural and urban poor.

The Prime Minister has yet to set a date for elections, saying stability has to be restored before balloting can be held.

During two days of acrimonious debate, the opposition Puea Thai Party charged the army`s use of live ammunition and armored personnel carriers to break up the protests was excessive and resulted in civilian casualties.

As the military moved in to clear the protest area on May 19, rioters set fires at the country`s biggest shopping mall, the stock exchange and more than two dozen other places.

No side could claim victory when faced with such losses, Abhisit said Tuesday.

"In the end, for reconciliation`s sake, Parliament has to investigate the matter further," he said. His government has accused a small minority of the protesters of being responsible for the violence and labeled them "terrorists."

"Please be assured that I will definitely not influence nor interfere with the investigation," Abhisit was quoted as saying by the state Thai News Agency.

The government needed at least 238 votes from a total number of 475 lawmakers to survive the motion. The six-party coalition consists of 275 lawmakers, while the opposition has 200.

Members of the lower house of Parliament voted 246-186 to reject the motion against Abhisit, while others abstained.

Some analysts said they were skeptical that the country`s deepening rifts could be healed in the political arena. Fears remain that the political crisis in Southeast Asia`s second-largest economy will worsen despite the latest unrest being put down.

"For the past 50 years, the Parliament has been inept at solving political conflicts. There`s no general acceptance from the ruling class of the parliamentary process," political historian Charnvit Kasetsiri said.

He said anti-government movements would now "go underground and go cyberspace," dismissing that new elections would pacify the Red Shirts. "Those who believe in the government would continue to believe. And those who do not trust the government would continue their resistance: This is clear. The middle ground is shrinking," he said.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe Abhisit`s government is illegitimate because it came to power as a result of military pressure and back-room deals after controversial court rulings ousted two elected pro-Thaksin governments.

Speaking after the first day of the debate, Jatuporn Prompan, a Red Shirt leader and lawmaker for the opposition Puea Thai Party, accused the government of framing members of his movement.

"If the government said that (Red Shirts) are behind the arson attacks, then why hasn`t it arrested and charged anyone yet?" asked Jatuporn.

Bureau Report