Thailand’s king swore in prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s new cabinet Monday, urging ministers to bring “peace and order” after months of protests that helped to bring down the last government.
The oath-taking allows the government to finally start working on tackling Thailand’s economic problems and fostering reconciliation after months of political turmoil that peaked with a blockade of Bangkok’s airports last month.
The Oxford-educated Abhisit was elected prime minister by parliament last week following a court verdict on December 2 which disbanded the ruling party loyal to ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
“I bless you to work for the peace and order of the nation,” widely revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 81, said in a short speech broadcast on national television.
“If you help each other you can give the country peace and order and make the country get through the current situation. That is all Thais want and it can sustain Thais,” the king said.
The previous government’s collapse came after months of protests by the royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) who accused it of being a corrupt front for the now-exiled Thaksin and of trying to damage the monarchy.
Thaksin supporters have now pledged to rally in Bangkok on Sunday and threatened to move to parliament on Monday when Democrat Party leader Abhisit’s government is due to present its policies to legislators.
The 44-year-old Abhisit said he would heed the king’s words.
“I will take His Majesty’s royal advice to heart. His Majesty wished us to work successfully in order to make the country and the people happy and that is the most important,” Abhisit said after the swearing in.
He also said he wanted to “bring back harmony” to Thailand, brushing off opponents’ claims that the new government –whose foreign minister openly backed the airport blockade –was undemocratic.
The new cabinet includes a number of controversial appointments, not least Foreign minister Kasit Piromya, who was a vocal supporter of the seizure of Suvarnabhumi international airport in late November.
The blockade caused some of the massive economic damage that must now be repaired by the cabinet, whose economic team is headed by Finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, an Oxford contemporary of Abhisit and former banker.
Thailand’s commerce ministry said on Monday that exports dropped in November, mainly due to the airport closures, for the first time in six-years.
The choice of ministers was partly influenced by the need to bring in members of coalition parties that have backed Abhisit, as well as defectors from the former ruling People Power Party which was allied to Thaksin.
Thai business leaders have criticised the choice of other economic ministers tasked with reviving the country’s fortunes, which have been hit by the global financial downturn in tandem with the kingdom’s political turmoil.
The appointment of former army chief general Prawit Wongsuwon as defence minister is also a sore point with supporters of Thaksin, who was toppled in a military coup in 2006, but the general said he did “not worry” about causing further rifts.
Thailand has been in crisis since the ouster of Thaksin, which also followed months of protests by the PAD. The telecoms tycoon is currently in self-imposed exile to avoid a jail term for corruption.
His allies won post-coup elections in December 2007 but the PAD took to the streets again in May this year, seeing off two pro-Thaksin prime ministers in the process.
The clash between the two sides has its roots in deep divisions in Thai society.
Thaksin’s opponents in the traditional Bangkok-based elite of the palace, military and bureaucracy saw the tycoon’s influence as a drain on their power.
The former PM’s support base, meanwhile, is in Thailand’s poor, rural north and northeast, areas where Abhisit and the Democrat Party have never been able to win backing.