Thailand’s oldest political party chooses new leader

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New Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanavisit, second right, sits with party colleagues, from left, Peerapan Saleerattavipak, Korn Chatikavanij and Apirak Kosayodhin during a Democrat Party meeting in Bangkok, Wednesday, May 15.
New Democrat Party leader Jurin Laksanavisit, second right, sits with party colleagues, from left, Peerapan Saleerattavipak, Korn Chatikavanij and Apirak Kosayodhin during a Democrat Party meeting in Bangkok, Wednesday, May 15.

Bangkok (AP) — Thailand’s oldest political party chose an experienced insider as its new leader Wednesday following an abysmal performance in recent elections that led to the resignation of its previous chief.

The Democrat Party voted for Jurin Laksanawisit to succeed former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who resigned after the March 24 general election. Jurin has served in the Cabinets of two Democrat-led governments, most notably as education minister and public health minister, and has been elected to Parliament 11 times.

More a party insider than a charismatic politician, he is not associated with the group of radicals who broke with the party in late 2013 to stage militant anti-government street demonstrations that eventually triggered the military coup in May 2014. Whether he will try to reconcile with the breakaway faction is unclear.

Jurin, 63, has been acting leader since Abhisit’s resignation. He comes from Phang-nga province in the south, where the Democrats traditionally do best.

His southern connection, along with his long experience in the party and in Parliament and government, won him support from senior colleagues including three previous party leaders: former prime minister Chuan Leekpai, Abhisit and Banyat Bantadtan. Their backing helped him win 160 out of 291 votes cast in the leadership vote, in which he faced three challengers.

The party, founded in 1946, has generally espoused a liberal form of royalism. It finished fourth in the election as voters in its Bangkok and southern strongholds deserted it.

Jurin said he would maintain some core aspects of the Democrat Party, such as its commitment to Thailand’s constitutional monarchy, while other features such as the party’s administrative functions and personnel should be modernized.