One of the ironies of contemporary Thai politics is that a slim parliamentary mandate can confer more legitimacy than a strong parliamentary mandate. For some members of Thailand’s elite, weak politicians are a much more attractive prospect than strong ones. Strong governments are a threat and must be resisted. Weak governments have a right to govern.

Proven electoral loser Abhisit Vejjajiva fits the bill perfectly. Yesterday he managed to secure the votes of 235 MPs. It was enough to make him Prime Minister. But remember that Abhisit’s 235 is only 2 MPs more than the People Power Party secured, in its own right, in the December 2007 election.

There are 480 seats in the full Parliament. The 235 that Abhisit mobilised yesterday is less than half. This makes the by-elections scheduled for 11 January 2009 all the more interesting. If PPP/Pheua Thai can hold onto its own seats and capture some of the Chart Thai seats they will be able to narrow Abhisit’s margin even further.

A narrow parliamentary majority will be hard for Abhisit to handle, especially with 71 defectors from the former government to keep happy. But for Abhisit’s backers outside parliament, a weak government is just what the doctor ordered.

Weakness may be his best hope for longevity.