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Abhisit determined to prove the doomsayers wrong

IF YOU really read between the lines of his latest interviews, Premier Abhisit Vejjajiva seems to have somehow garnered a new degree of confidence - so much so that he is looking at being in office "two to three years from now".

It was during an exclusive interview the premier gave to the editors of the Nation Group on Sunday that Abhisit gave away his personal agenda to the equivalent of "staying the course".

Wasn't it only very recently that most observers gave him and his Cabinet no more than a few weeks in office? In some quarters at the time, Abhisit was seen as no more than an "accidental prime minister" whose lack of experience and shaky political base meant that any small political incident would result in a collapse like a house of cards.

Reporters, reflecting that mood, were asking questions such as: "How can you survive? With such a slim majority in the House, you could wake up any morning to find that you are no longer in office. How do you plan to deal with this cliff-hanging situation?"

With perhaps a sense of vindication, Abhisit, after six months of unprecedented, tumultuous politics, can now answer those questions without qualms:

"When we first took over, critics said we would only last three months. Some say we have a small margin of MP seats, but we have passed more laws than governments with a bigger majority…"

Now, the same reporters are posing a different set of questions: "Is it likely that your government will stay until the end of its term?" Or: "How do you plan to thwart the opposition's move to oust you?"

Abhisit's answer remains noncommittal, clearly less evasive and certainly has a higher degree of certitude:

"I can't answer that. I'm willing to hold an election if, at some point, there is a consensus that an election will be a political way out. I won't cling to power or stay until the end of my term. The only thing I want to say is that I don't want to see an election while some undemocratic political groups are still obstructing real, free and fair competition. So I won't hold an election as long as they still block us…"

Will his performance inevitably be compared to that of Thaksin's

He didn't burst out with "Give me or break", or say "Hey, that's not fair." Instead, Abhisit did not hesitate to hurl his public stance of modesty out of the window to declare a newfound level of confidence:

 "It's alright if they compare the first six months of the two governments, but people are comparing my six months in office with Thaksin's five years … I took only six months to deliver many policies that he could have done in his six to seven years in office but didn't … even though they were his party's policies."

The catch was the next line. It wasn't clear whether it was a challenge or a threat or a plea. But Abhisit did say:

"Give me another two to three years and I assure you that I will deliver more than Thaksin. I also have to fix some of his legacies such as the Elite Card programme, as well as his "We Care" housing scheme and the damage to the rice market. In his five years in power, if Thaksin had really solved the problem of poverty, why do we still have so many poor?"

Was he asking for two or three more years? Or was he presenting a vision that portrays him in the chief executive's seat long enough to show he can outperform Thaksin, given the same opportunity and equal time and space?

This definitely is a far cry from Abhisit the acerbic opposition leader with an unproven record. This isn't a promising young politician whose only strength is his sharp tongue.

The new Abhisit knows that rhetoric won't carry the day. If he can't get things done, if he can't deliver the goods, all the dire predictions about his vulnerability and early political demise remain as likely as six months ago.

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