Opposition leader educated at Eton is new Thai PM

An Oxford-educated fan of Newcastle United Football Club, who also has a taste for Albert Camus, has been elected Thailand's third prime minister in as many months – a position heavy with challenges and political uncertainty.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the opposition Democrat Party, took charge yesterday with a slim majority and against a backdrop of ongoing turmoil. In an early sign of the challenges he is likely to face, supporters of the former government blocked access to the parliament building after the vote and smashed the windows of MPs' cars.

The Old Etonian, who comes from a wealthy family of Thai-Chinese origin, was elected after a court ruling last month that banned three coalition parties and the then Prime Minister, Somchai Wongsawat, from participating in politics for several years.

Those parties had hoped they could reform under a different banner, but it proved impossible to reach an agreement. As a result, the way was opened for Mr Abhisit, 44. He secured the position yesterday with 235 votes to 198. How long that slim majority holds remains to be seen; by-elections are due to be held for 29 positions that belonged to the MPs effectively sacked by last month's court decision.

Analysts say Mr Abhisit's main task will be to address Thailand's mounting economic problems and to convince foreign tourists that the country is a safe place to visit. Last month, demonstrations by anti-government protesters saw the country's airports closed down and thousands of tourists stranded. For a country that depends heavily on the tourist industry, such incidents are hugely damaging. But the youthful Prime Minister with a penchant for existential angst will also have to deal with his political opponents, namely the supporters of the former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The onetime telecoms tycoon was ousted in a bloodless coup in 2006 but still has widespread support in the country, particularly amid the rural poor. The previous two premiers have been allies of Mr Thaksin and members of the now-banned People's Power Party (PPP).

"Abhisit is untested and that is both good and bad. He has a clean record. He is well-educated, eloquent and principled so the public will likely give him a chance," Panithan Wattanayagorn, a political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, told the Associated Press. He said that as the opposition leader, Mr Abhisit had not outlined a solution to the many problems facing the country, something that he would have to quickly remedy. "That is his weakness and that lack of decisiveness and clear political stance could turn against him very quickly," added Professor Panithan. "It's going to be among Thailand's roughest premierships."

Just hours after Mr Abhisit's election, the Foreign Ministry said it had revoked Mr Thakin's diplomatic passport. He has spent time in Dubai and China since Britain revoked his visa after his conviction in absentia by a Thai court on conflict of interest charges. Over the weekend, Mr Thaksin addressed – via a pre-recorded video – 40,000 supporters gathered at a stadium. He called for national reconciliation, saying: "May all sides take one step back and respect the results. Please don't use any institution to intervene. Just let the country move forward. Don't make people suffer more."

Mr Abhisit, who is British-born, is known as Mark, though his first name means "privilege" in Thai. He joined the country's oldest party, the Democrats, in 1992 and became one of the youngest-ever members of parliament. He rose through the party ranks and the popularity stakes, especially among educated urban voters in Bangkok.

Old school ties: Other rulers educated in Britain

*King Abdullah II of Jordan attended St Edmund's School in Hindhead, Surrey

*Mohamed Nasheed, the President of the Maldives, attended Dauntsey's School in West Lavington, Wiltshire

*King George Tupou V of Tonga, attended The Leys School in Cambridge

*King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the ruler of Bhutan, was a student at Oxford University

*Abdullah Gul, the President of Turkey, studied at Exeter University

*Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minster of India, went to Cambridge University

*Mwai Kibaki, the President of Kenya, attended the London School of Economics

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch