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interview with Abhisit Vejjajiva and Surin Pitsuwan

The ThailandCIA The World Factbook
Interviews with Abhisit Vejjajiva and
Surin Pitsuwan,
Yuli Ismartono [time 30:04]

5th September, 2006

Two leaders of Thailand's opposition Democrat Party was in Jakarta recently, to attend the annual ASEAN 100 Leadership Forum: party chairman Abhisit Vejjajiva and deputy chairman, Surin Pitsuwan. The Democrat Party will take on the Thai Rak Thai party of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the next elections, after snap elections early this year was declared invalid.

Yuli Ismartono: Elections will be held again in October and the Democrat Party will take part this time around. What is the current political situation in Thailand like?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: The only remaining uncertainty, of course, is the appointment of the electoral commission. At the moment it's currently going through the selection process in the senate, and there is still uncertainty as to when that could be finished. And of course, the electoral commission would then have very little time to get to work on holding elections. So, there is still a slight possibility that there might have to be some kind of postponement. But we hope not too long. I think everybody is anxious to get back to elections and get back to normalcy.

YI: What would be the strategy of the Democrat Party to beat the Thai Rak Thai, the party in power, which won overwhelmingly in the last election?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: Our simple message is that the country needs a change of direction, that we need a government that is not only democratically elected, but a government that will put the people first. That's why we have been talking to the people about the people's agenda, where all policies -- political, economic and social -- are there to serve the people.

YI: You have something called Agenda for the People. Can you explain a little bit about that?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: We think that Thailand has been led in the wrong direction, partly because we have had leaders and a government that has vested interests. The conflict of interests has led to corruption and loss opportunities for the country, economically and socially. At the same time, the undemocratic elements of the previous administration has meant that there has been a lot more divisiveness in the country, as we can see from the crisis that has been ongoing for over half a year. We need to change direction. We need a new leadership so that we can restore democracy and good government in Thailand and serve the people.

YI: The rural population has been backing the Thai Rak Thai, saying that the party works for the people. How do you explain that?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: Well, now they are suffering from high prices, high cost of living. They complain about the high petrol price, high electricity charges and low wages. And they are beginning to complain more about the lack of opportunities in terms of education for their children, as well as the quality of their health care. These are the issues that we will address, these are the issues that we think we have better alternatives and proposals for, and we think that will turn the people around.

YI: There is a political divide between the urban and the rural people. Will you try to bridge this political divide?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: Yes. We think the divisiveness has come from the undemocratic attitudes taken by the previous leader and his administration. And what we are advocating is that an honest, open and inclusive government is the only way to heal all the elements in society. And I pledge to be a leader that respects this principle.

YI: What about the Democrat Party's policy towards neighboring countries in Asia?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: We think there is need to emphasize closer cooperation and a strengthening, in particular, of economic integration in the region. We think there is a need to speed up ASEAN economic integration in particular, as well as look for opportunities for our businesses and our economy. There has been a tremendous growth in the Indian and Chinese economies which very much changed the equation in terms of the global balance, and we need to take that into account.

YI: What do you think ASEAN should do with the problem of Myanmar?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: I think it's time that ASEAN recognizes that no problem can be considered a purely domestic problem, because any problem that occurs in a member state affects the whole association. We need to tackle these issues more frankly. We need to respect the principles that are held to be important by the international community so that Thailand and other ASEAN members should really push for an agenda that show that we respect human rights and key principles upheld by the international community.

YI: What about problems like terrorism, that is shared almost all of the ASEAN countries, and Thailand is experiencing this in the south?

Abhisit Vejjajiva: These problems should be tackled at two levels: at the international level, and there's more that we can do in terms of exchange of information and cooperation, in particular in areas that are close to the border. Bilateral cooperation is very important. At another level, it must be recognized that the root cause of terrorism and violence usually comes from the fact that there are groups of marginalized people. So, once again, if we had an open and inclusive government, a government that cares for its people, that is likely to solve the problem.

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Personal Plofile
Abhisit Vejjajiva Abhisit Vejjajiva,
The Oxford-educated Abhisit began his political career in 1992 when he was elected as MP for Bangkok. He has been re-elected since then, serving as government spokesman, Political Affairs Deputy-Secretary to the Prime Minister when the Democrats controlled the government. He was elected chairman of the Democrat Party in 2005. Abhisit started his career in politics in 1992 as a Democrat MP for Bangkok. He was reelected to the same seat in 1995 and 1996. In the elections of 2001 and 2005, he was returned to parliament as a Party List MP for the Democrat Party. During his political career, he has served as Democrat Party spokesman, Government spokesman, Deputy-Secretary to the Prime Minister for Political Affairs, Chairman of the House Education Affairs Committee and Minister to the Prime Minister's Office.
Surin Pitsuwan Surin Pitsuwan,
Democrat Party deputy chairman Surin Pitsuwan is no stranger to the ASEAN region. As a long-time MP from Nakhon si Thammarat in southern Thailand, the Harvard-educated Surin has served as foreign minister under Democrat Party Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai. He is currently a member of the Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization, a Member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Member of the International Advisory Board of the International Crisis Group (ICG) and a Member of the Board of Trustees of the Asia Foundation. Dr. Pitsuwan studied at Harvard University where he received a Ph.D. and an M.A. He received his B.A. in Political Science from Claremont Men's College in California in 1972.
Yuli Ismartono Yuli Ismartono, [Interviewer]
Yuli Ismartono is an executive editor at Tempo, Indonesia's foremost weekly news magazine. Ms. Ismartono, who holds degrees in political science and journalism, has been with Tempo for 15 years, mostly assigned to covering events around the Asia region and interviewing national leaders - such as former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, former South Korean president Kim Dae Jung,Cambodia's King Sihanouk and prime minister Hun Sen, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and other newsmakers. She is currently in charge of Tempo's English language edition and managing editor of AsiaViews, an online and hardcopy magazine featuring news and commentaries from the Asia region, of which Tempo is a member and coordinator of the media group that publishes it.
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