BANGKOK // Opponents of Thailand's new government rallied in central Bangkok today and called for fresh elections, a day before the prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, is due to make his maiden policy speech to parliament. Thousands of red-shirted supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in a 2006, massed near the Grand Palace, but their sights were set on parliament, which elected Mr Abhisit prime minister two weeks ago.
"On Monday, we will definitely move to Parliament House," Jatuporn Prompan, a leader of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD), said. "Our position is to put pressure on Abhisit to dissolve the lower house." But Mr Jatuporn said the DAAD had no plans to stop Abhisit from delivering his speech. "We will not block government MPs from entering parliament," Mr Jatuporn said. "We will not cut off the electricity or water, either," he added, referring to tactics used by a rival group whose street protests during Thailand's three-year political crisis undermined Thaksin and his allies.
The previous government, led by Mr Thaksin's brother-in-law, had to step down after three parties in the ruling coalition were disbanded by the courts, which said they had committed vote fraud in a general election a year ago. Since that election, pro-Thaksin governments had been undermined by a series of court cases and street protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a group that includes members of parliament in Abhisit's Democrat Party.
The PAD-led protests culminated in a week-long blockade of Bangkok's two main airports at the turn of this month, which has scared away tourists and looks likely to exacerbate a downturn in the economy. The new finance minister Korn Chatikavanij said on Wednesday the country's export-driven economy would shrink in the fourth quarter and barely grow in 2009. Mr Korn, an Oxford-trained former investment banker, projected 2009 growth at between zero and two per cent, the worst in a decade.
In a 50-page policy statement released to members of parliament and the press last week, Mr Abhisit said turning round the economy would be one of his government's top priorities. Under the constitution, a new Thai government cannot start work officially until it delivers its policy statement to a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and Senate. Mr Abhisit said in an interview on Thursday that his government would expand a planned stimulus package to 300 billion baht (Dh31bn).
The spending will be funded by, among other things, loans from state banks to shore up commodity prices in order to help farmers, and a reallocation of funds from local governments. *Reuters