WSJ: “New Thai Prime Minister Faces Immediate Hurdles

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra’s grip on Thai politics — and the instability it provoked — eased on Monday with parliament’s election of a new prime minister from a rival party.

The rise of 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Oxford-educated leader of the Democrat Party, could bring some calm after months of sometimes-violent protests that have undermined one of Southeast Asia’s linchpin economies.

But Mr. Abhisit faces significant political and economic hurdles. His new ruling coalition’s slim majority depends on the support of defectors he lured from Mr. Thaksin’s camp, which still controls the single largest party in parliament. Grass-roots support for Mr. Thaksin and his populist policies runs deep in rural Thailand, and Mr. Abhisit’s election was greeted by public protests by Thaksin supporters.

Mr. Abhisit will also have to deal with the effects of the global economic slowdown on Thailand, which some economists predict could slip into recession next year.

And another snip:

Political risk is likely to remain a watchword for Thailand in the coming months. Mr. Abhisit’s narrow margin of victory in Monday’s parliamentary vote — he defeated pro-Thaksin rival Pracha Promnok by 235 votes to 198 — could make it tough for him to act decisively on the economy, or even to defend his legislative majority. Thailand’s next national election must be held by 2011.

There’s also an interactive graphic that charts Thailand’s GDP growth rate and the country’s political unrest.