Thailand needs "period of stability' before elections

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Thailand needs "a period of stability" before considering elections after the deadliest political violence in 18 years, said Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

"I don't intend to use the reconciliation process as a pretext for not holding early elections," he said at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday. "I am open to the idea of early elections but those elections have to be helpful to the recovery process of the country."

The visit to Vietnam is Abhisit's first trip outside Thailand since the end of two months of anti-government protests that left 87 people dead. An "overwhelming majority" now wanted a period of calm this year, he said.

Thailand's government can't reconcile with the leaders of the protests until it is clear whether any are linked to criminal acts, he said. "As the cases proceed we'll be able to see who among them we can reach out to," he said after being asked which opposition leaders he would approach.

Abhisit won the backing of Thai lawmakers last week for his handling of the army operation to end the unrest. An independent commission to investigate the clashes is being set up.

"A little time is needed," to establish the commission, Abhisit said, reiterating his pledge that the probe would be independent.

Confidence vote

Legislators voted 246 to 186 in a confidence vote June 2, reflecting the majority Abhisit attained in December 2008 after a court disbanded the ruling party linked to former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. The billionaire and his allies, winners of the past four elections, have agitated for a fresh vote since Abhisit took power.

Thaksin and his allies won elections with support from the northeast, Thailand's poorest region where a third of its 66 million people live. Abhisit's Democrat party, which draws most of its backing from Bangkok and the south, last won the most seats in a nationwide vote in 1992.

"I'd love to reach out to all the grassroots people involved in the protests because I firmly believe they don't want violence," Abhisit said.

Abhisit reshuffled eight Cabinet positions three weeks after quelling anti-government demonstrations that killed at least 87 people, according to a government statement yesterday.

The Cabinet posts affected include the industry minister, information and communications technology minister, labor minister, culture minister, science and technology minister, deputy finance minister, deputy education minister and a minister attached to Abhisit's office.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij retained his job, as did Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who participated in a 2008 seizure of Bangkok's airports by a group supporting Abhisit.

The premier told the World Economic Forum on East Asia that the central bank recognizes the need to pursue an accommodative monetary policy to support the economy. Second-quarter economic growth will probably reach 6 percent, he said.

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