Thailand's parliament voted for a new prime minister Wednesday, choosing the brother-in-law of deposed leader and fugitive Thaksin Shinawatra and setting up a showdown with protesters who have paralyzed the country's government for weeks.
The new prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat, appealed for national unity at a news conference shortly after the parliamentary vote. He refused to answer a question about Thaksin, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup and is now in exile in London.
"It is now time for Thailand to unite, to reconcile and to solve the conflict," said Somchai, a 61-year-old bureaucrat married to Thaksin's sister. "It is not unusual to be angry, but we have to work together to make Thailand peaceful again."
Somchai's nomination and victory in the parliamentary vote comes after his predecessor was forced to resign because he had been paid for taking part in a television cooking show, violating Thailand's constitutional prohibition on public office holders accepting money from private sources.
Analyst Thitinan Pongsidhirak, of Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said stability remains unlikely despite the parliamentary vote. "There is no clear resolution in the days and weeks ahead of the Thai political crisis," Thitinan said.
The vote, which still needs formal approval by Thailand's king, was rejected by protesters who have occupied the prime minister's official headquarters for over three weeks.
Protestors support Thai king
The hundreds of demonstrators sport yellow shirts to express their support for the king, a constitutional monarch who has been at loggerheads with Thaksin and his backers in the past.
'Blood is thicker than water.' —Thai protester
Somchai "might have a gentlemanly nature, a soft-spoken style and he might have a better reputation than everyone else [in the ruling party], but blood is thicker than water," said a protest leader, to loud cheers from protesters camped on the grounds of Government House.
Another demonstrator said she would stay camped on the prime minister's muddy lawn for as long as it takes.
"We won't leave until he leaves. If he wants to stay for four years, fine, we'll stay here for four years," she said.
With no access to his office, Somchai has said the government will be temporarily based at Bangkok's old international airport.
Authorities have said they do not want to use force to evict the protesters.
Somchai also told journalists at the news conference that his top priority would be to protect Thailand's economy from the turmoil on Wall Street. Then, a military helicopter took him north of the capital to survey flood damage from monsoon rains.
Plagued by instability, coups
Thailand has been wracked by coups and political crises many times since it emerged as a modern nation-state in the 1930s.
The election of Thaksin, a telecommunications billionaire, in 2001 ushered in fresh turmoil as the strong-willed prime minister clashed with Thailand’s traditional military and business elite.
He was deposed by a military coup in 2006, while he was out of the country.
Charges of corruption were laid against Thaksin and his wife, which he denied but did not challenge in court.
After elections in January 2008 restored his supporters to power, Thaksin returned to Thailand, only to flee in August when courts issued arrest warrants for him. He lives in exile in London with his wife, who has been convicted of income tax evasion and sentenced in absentia to several years in jail.