December 14, 2008 / 7:37 AM / in 9 years

FACTBOX: Abhisit Vejjajiva, favorite for Thai PM

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva is expected to become Thailand’s new Prime Minister on Monday at the helm of a weak coalition government faced with an economy flirting with recession.

Following are some facts about the 44-year-old career politician:

- Born in Newcastle in northern England to a pair of medical professors, Abhisit was educated at prestigious Eton college and then Oxford University, where he graduated with first class honors in Politics, Philosophy and Economics.

- His undoubted intellect and overseas education make him a favorite of the foreign business community, but cut little ice with the rural northeastern Thais who formed the backbone of support for ousted leader Thaksin Shinawatra.

In nearly three years as opposition leader, his excursions outside Bangkok or the Democrat heartlands of the south were rare and almost always met with hostility.

Once, Thaksin supporters disrupted a Democrat rally in the northern city of Chiang Mai, forcing Abhisit to flee the stage under a barrage of rotten vegetables.

- Despite espousing an affinity for clean government and denouncing the 2006 coup against Thaksin, Abhisit has been criticized as an opportunist who would have gone nowhere without a helping hand from the military and the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

He failed to condemn the PAD, even when the royalist demonstrators occupied Bangkok’s two main airports.

Similarly, it was his party’s decision to boycott a snap election in 2006 that precipitated the constitutional crisis that eventually led to the coup.

- His policies borrow heavily from Thaksin, in particular the commitment to continue the universal public healthcare scheme and cheap rural loans introduced during Thaksin’s five years in office.

Otherwise, his ideas are a relative hotchpotch of left and right, vowing to push for more overseas free trade deals and at the same time pledging to reverse Thaksin’s partial privatization of some state firms.

Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bill Tarrant

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