Abhisit Vejjajiva: Violence Invites Violence

Article excerpt

Byline: Lally Weymouth

Thailand's prime minister on coups d'etat and economic interdependence.

Thailand had been in turmoil for years when Abhisit Vejjajiva was sworn in as prime minister in December 2008. A bloodless military coup had removed the controversial populist leader Thaksin Shinawatra from the job in 2006, and Abhisit's two immediate predecessors were thrown out in rapid succession by the country's Constitutional Court. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth spoke with Abhisit at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Excerpts:

Weymouth: Thaksin has been gone for two years. Why are people still supporting him?

Abhisit: He was in power for six years. He controlled most of the media. And he was fortunate enough to oversee quite a good period of economic expansion. But what we have done over the past year is to prove that we respond equally--if not more--to the needs of the people. [Only] we do it while upholding the spirit of democracy, which is not to abuse power or to intimidate the opposition. Some of his supporters have legitimate grievances against the coup that took place.

Do you have plans to hold a real election?

My term has two more years to go. The economy is on firmer ground now. But we also need to make sure we have rules that people can agree upon. What is the good of having elections if my opponents are going to engage in election fraud again? They use intimidation tactics, they use threats of violence, and that is not democratic to me.

U.S. experts are concerned that Thailand could end up in a civil war once the king leaves the scene.

Not if we continue on this track. The way we would descend into civil war is if we [were to] cave in to illegitimate demands because of threats of violence. That only invites further violence from all sides.

The rest of Asia has come out of the economic downturn faster than your country. Why is that?

I think we have one of the lowest unemployment rates now. Last year we saw the final figure of minus-2.8 percent negative growth, but this year we have had 4.5 percent growth. In December we had a record number of tourists--1.6 million. This year we think exports will increase by 14 percent. The next part is how we exit from the stimulus packages. They need to be sustained through this year, but we would certainly hope to see private investment picking up. …