Critics say that Abhisit remains in power because of his powerful backers, principally military commanders who were at loggerheads with the previous administration and refused to put down a royalist airport siege in 2008. By clinging to power, Abhisit reinforces the perception that a partisan establishment has undermined the democratic process, these critics say.
Were parliamentary elections to be held today, pro-Thaksin forces are favored to win, though not by an absolute majority, according to political analysts and Western diplomats. Such a result, a virtual rerun of the 2007 elections, could spark further turmoil along ideological and class lines.
“I think Abhisit and his party are afraid of elections. If we have elections, Thaksin’s party will win, without any doubts. Thais feel that Thaksin is the underdog and hasn’t been treated fairly,” says Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent social activist.
Abhisit says that he won’t dissolve parliament until he is sure that fair and orderly elections can be held. A parliamentary committee has tabled proposals to amend six constitutional clauses that would be put to a popular referendum. He accuses the opposition Puea Thai party, which is loyal to Thaksin and favors a return to Thailand’s 1997 constitution, of scuttling the reforms.
“I thought we’d agreed on a set of rules until Thaksin called it off. That suggests the problem is not with us, it’s with Thaksin,” says Abhisit, speaking after a weekly live broadcast on state TV.
Born and educated in the UK, Abhisit rose rapidly through his party’s ranks and took over in 2005 after an election defeat. He is among Thailand’s youngest-ever political leaders and is popular among Bangkok’s moneyed classes and star-struck women.
But his boyish good looks and educated patina aren’t necessarily a calling card in Thailand’s political culture, says Kavi Chongkittavorn, a columnist for the pro-Abhisit Nation daily. Other Thai media have criticized him as too reserved and ineffectual, in contrast to politicians schooled in roughhouse tactics.
Mr. Sulak says Abhisit is a clean, respectable leader who lacks conviction. “He’s a nice boy.… But he has no guts, no moral courage. He just plays along with the game to survive,” he says.