Thursday, December 1, 2011

Abhisit Vejjajiva

Abhisit Vejjajiva (Thai: อภิสิทธิ์ เวชชาชีวะ ; born Mark Abhisit Vejjajiva; 3 August 1964 in Newcastle upon Tyne) is a Thai politician who was the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand from 2008 to 2011 and is the current leader of the Democrat Party. As leader of the second largest party in the House of Representatives, he is also Leader of the Opposition - a position he last held in December 2008.

Born in England, Abhisit attended Eton College and earned bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Oxford. He was elected to the Parliament of Thailand at age 27, and promoted to Democrat Party leader in 2005, after his predecessor resigned following the party's defeat in the 2005 general election.

Abhisit was appointed Prime Minister of Thailand on 17 December 2008, after the Constitutional Court of Thailand removed Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat from office. At age 44, he was the country's youngest prime minister in more than 60 years.

Abhisit became Premier at a time of global economic turmoil and rising domestic political tensions. As prime minister, he promoted a "People’s Agenda," which focused primarily on policies affecting the living conditions of Thailand's rural and working class citizens. He administered two economic stimulus packages: a $40 billion, three-year infrastructure improvement plan, and a more than $3 billion program of cash subsidies and handouts. By 2010, the stock market and the value of the baht had rebounded to their highest levels since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Abhisit censored thousands of Web sites, shut down hundreds of radio stations, and arrested and silenced many media figures and opposition and labor leaders, claiming that they insulted King Bhumibol. Human Rights Watch called Abhisit "the most prolific censor in recent Thai history" and Freedom House downgraded Thailand's rating of media freedom to "not free." Abhisit also advocated for stronger anti-corruption measures, although several members of his Cabinet resigned due to corruption scandals and parts of his economic stimulus packages were criticized for instances of alleged corruption.

Abhisit's government faced major protests in April 2009 and April–May 2010. The military's crackdowns on protesters left hundreds dead. Abhisit launched a reconciliation plan to investigate the crackdown, but the work of the investigation commission was hampered by military and government agencies. The Thai Army clashed with Cambodian troops numerous times from 2009 to 2010 in the bloodiest fighting in over 2 decades. The South Thailand insurgency escalated during Abhisit's government, and reports of torture and human rights violations increased.

Having resigned the party leadership after the defeat the Democrats suffered in the parliamentary elections of 2011, Abhisit was re-elected as leader at a party assembly.

Early life and family
Mark Abhisit Vejjajiva was born in Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, attended Eton College (where he was known as "Veggie" amongst his peers), and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), first class honors, and a master's degree in economics from St John's College, Oxford. He also received a bachelor's degree in law from Thailand's Ramkhamhaeng University, and taught at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and Thammasat University Faculty of Economics. He is fluent in both his mother tongue and the English language, and has dual Thai and British citizenship. His dual citizenship became a topic for the Thai parliamentary debates in early 2011. He is ethnically Han Chinese of Hokkien origin.

Abhisit was preceded in public service by his father, Athasit (อรรถสิทธิ์) Vejjajiva, a former president of Mahidol University and the Royal Institute of Thailand and who is now director of Charoen Pokphand Foods, Thailand's largest agribusiness firm and part of the Charoen Pokphand Group, known throughout Thailand as CP.

Abhisit is married to Pimpen Sakuntabhai, his classmate at the Chulalongkorn University Demonstration elementary school, who was a former dentist and is now a lecturer at the Department of Mathematics at Chulalongkorn University. They have two children: Prang Vejjajiva (daughter) and Pannasit Vejjajiva (son). Abhisit has two sisters: child psychiatrist Alisa Wacharasindhu and author Ngarmpun Vejjajiva.

Abhisit's ancestors were Hokkien, surnamed Yuan (), who moved from Vietnam to Thailand. The family name Vejjajiva was granted by King Rama VI to Abhisit's great-grandfather Dr. Long (หลง), together with Long's father Nai Jinsang (นายจิ๊นแสง), grandfather Nai Pong (นายเป๋ง) and great-grandfather Nai Go (นายก่อ) while Dr. Long was serving as an Army Medical Department sub-lieutenant (รองอำมาตย์ตรี) The Vejjajiva family came to prominence when Dr. Long, then styled Phra Bamrad Naradura, rose to public health minister, and founded the Bamrad Naradura hospital in Nonthaburi. The family name means "medical profession."

The National Peace Keeping Council seized power in a military coup in 1991 and appointed Abhisit's father Deputy Minister of Public Health.

Upon his appointment as Prime Minister in 2008, Abhisit's officially declared personal assets worth 51.8 million baht (nearly $2 million). This increased to 54.4 million upon leaving office. Given that Abhisit has never worked in the private sector, the vast majority his wealth was either inherited or gifted to him.

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