Sunday, July 3, 2011

Abhisit finds Thaksin tough act to follow (Pictures)

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva . -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK - THAILAND'S first superstar premier Thaksin Shinawatra was a hard act to follow. But current leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has found it particularly difficult to emerge from his rival's shadow.

British-born Mr Abhisit, the head of the establishment-backed Democrat Party, is the polar opposite of former billionaire telecoms tycoon Thaksin, who swept to power a decade ago by capturing the support of the rural poor.

Thaksin, who lives in exile after being removed in a 2006 coup and convicted in his absence of corruption, remains wildly popular in the vast northern hinterlands for his populist policies while in power. The former policeman now looks to be on the verge of a comeback with his youngest sister and political proxy Yingluck Shinawatra the frontrunner to become prime minister after Sunday's election.

In contrast to his rival, 46-year-old Mr Abhisit often comes across as aloof and awkward, more at ease mingling with international leaders or corporate CEOs than ordinary voters.

'I think he comes across as a very cold leader in an ivory tower,' said Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, from the Institute of South-east Asian Studies in Singapore. 'He looks so uncomfortable every time he goes to the rice fields.'

The scion of an influential family whose name means 'privilege', Mr Abhisit was born in the northern English city of Newcastle while his parents were studying medicine. His CV includes an elite education at Britain's Eton College and Oxford University. -- AFP


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