Politics of Thailand

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The politics of Thailand are currently conducted within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.

Thai kingdoms and the late Kingdom of Siam were under absolute rule of the kings. However, after the 'democratic revolution' in 1932, led by westernized bureaucrats and traditional-oriented military, the country officially became under a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as the head of government. The first written constitution was issued. Yet the politics became the arena of fighting factions among old and new elites, bureaucrats, and generals. Coups happened from time to time, often bringing the country under the rule of yet another junta. To date Thailand has had seventeen charters and constitutions, reflecting a high degree of political instability. After successful coups, military regimes have abrogated existing constitutions and promulgated interim charters. Negotiation among politicians, men of influence and generals has become the prime factor for restoration of temporary political stability.

Politics of Constitutions

Before the Revolution of 1932, the kingdom had no written constitution. The monarch was the originator of all laws and the head of the government. In 1932 the first written constitution was promulgated, expected to be the most important guideline of the kingdom. However when political disputes took place among the elites, the first military coup was effected in 1933. The first official constitution was removed, a new one was promulgated. The constitution has traditionally been considered to be the symbol of 'democracy' in Thailand, and certainly the public has been indoctrinated to believe this.

All of Thailand's charters and constitutions have recognized a unified kingdom with a constitutional monarchy, but with widely differing balances of power between the branches of government. Most Thai governments have stipulated parliamentary systems; however, several of them also called for dictatorships, e.g., the 1957 Constitution. Both unicameral and bicameral parliaments have been used, and members of parliament have been both elected and appointed. The direct powers of the monarch have also varied considerably.

Thailand's 'popular Constitution', called the "People's Constitution" was successfully promulgated in 1997 after the 1992 Bloody May incident. Publicly, constitutional devices have often charged as the root of political turmoil. The 1997 Constitution was considered a landmark in terms of the degree of public participation involved in its drafting as well as the democratic nature of its articles. It stipulated a bicameral legislature, both houses of which are elected. Many civil rights were explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments while new organs supervising the administrative power also emerged for the first time such as The Constitutional Court, The Administrative Court and The Ombudsman. These organs later became a threat for the politicians particularly when Thaksin Shinawatra, one of the most popular politicians in Thai history, was trialled with the case relating to his assets.

However, following an army-led coup on 19 September 2006, the 1997 Constitution was abrogated. The junta ruled the country by martial law and executive decree for weeks, until it promulgated an interim constitution on 2006-10-01. The Interim Constitution allowed the junta to appoint a Prime Minister, legislature, and drafting committee for a permanent constitution. Though decrees on mass media control were declared, the political skirmishes and rally happened. The critics on the papers were seen. With the changing political atmosphere, seemingly, pressed the junta to comply, local and municipal elections were held as usual. In 2007 the new constitution was eventually issued, said 'junta-support constitution' for many critics.

The King of Thailand has little direct power under the constitution but is a symbol of national identity and unity. King Bhumibol — who has been on the throne since 1946 — commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to attempt to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.

Thailand and Democracy after 1932

Thailand had been a kingdom under absolute monarchy for over seven centuries before 1932.

As a result of imperialism, the kings began a reform at some degrees. The king was the president of the government, consulted with his counsillors, mainly his relatives. Though the significant reform happened in the Rama V's reign, the kingdom still had no national assembly. The men of the royal blood held the positions in the government as ministers. The situation became tense after the World War I. The economic crisis attacked the country. The young generation of students and intellectuals studying in Europe began criticizing the crown's government as backward, corrupt, and ineffective. On June 24, 1932, troops in Bangkok seized government buildings and some key ministers. The so-called 1932 Revolution took place. Its leaders were both bureaucrats and young military officers, crying for the national reform, including the first written constitution. After negotiation with the king, Rama VII, and the kingdom's elite, the changes took place, ending absolute rule by the king. The king remained the titular head of state, but the constitutional government ruled the country with the prime minister as its head. The general election was held with the birth of the first national assembly.

Despite the efforts of previous kings, western, democratic style of the government was alien to the kingdom. Thailand had insufficient time to educate its population in preparation for western political, industrial and economic changes, albeit female vote was granted since the first general election.

Since becoming a western style constitutional democratic monarchy in 1932, for most of the time the country has been ruled by military governments. The disputes and struggles among the elites; old and new, civilian, politicians, and military happened from times to time since 1932. The first military coup staged by the 1932 revolutionary, military 'wing' itself, occurred in 1933. The military mean has become a necessary tool for political stability. Political freedom, freedom of speech and basic human rights were strongly compromised in the first three quarters of the twentieth century.

Due to the pressure of outside events during the Vietnam War, the politics of the kingdom became even more tense. The military government, with support of the US, tightened its control over the country's politics, while intellectuals and leftist students strongly opposed the junta.

The Communist insurgency led by the Communist Party of Thailand staged armed struggle in the countryside in the 60s. Communist and radical ideas attracted a handful of intellectuals. The communist movement was seen collateral with the independent movement in the Indochinese countries, waging war against the US. As a result, military junta expanded its grip. Intellectual as well as violent clashes between the junta and the intellectual sparked in the urban and the countryside respectively.

Student-led uprisings in October 1973 led to a new vision of liberating the country from military government for a short period. The media received more freedom to criticize politicians and governments, while revolutionary and socialist movements became more apparent. The new civilian government officially shut the U.S. bases amid the fear of the communist victory in the Indochinese countries in 1975. In 1976, Admiral Sa-ngad Chaloryu, the armed forces commander, staged a massacre and coup that brought hardline anti-communists to power and reversed these reforms.

At the end of the Indochina War, investment by foreign businesses helped alleviate poor infrastructure and social problems. The middle classes constituted only ten per cent of the sixty million population; they enjoyed wealth and increasing freedom, leaving the majority poor in the rural areas and slums.

The system of rule fluctuated between unstable civilian governments and interludes of military takeover. During democratic periods, the middle-class in the cities ignored the poor in the rural areas. The media accepted bribes. To corrupt bureaucrats and politicians became well accepted business practice. The military would take over as a measure of ultima ratio.

Every time a coup was staged, some scapegoats or excuses were always found to justify it. Eventually, the ensuing junta government would hand the government back to elected officials. As a result, there have been 18 coups and resultant 18 constitutions in the history of Thai politics.

From 1932, bureaucrats, generals, and businessmen have run most of the political parties. While the 'grassroots' are always the target of the political parties, no 'grassroot' party has ever led the country. Money seems to be the major factor of gaining power in the country. Political power means control over the national resource.

The Black May uprising, in 1992, lead to more reform when promulgating the 1997 constitution – "The People's Constitution" – aiming to create checks and balance of powers between strengthened government, separately elected senators and anti-corruption institutes. Administrative courts, Constitutional Courts and election-control committee were established to strengthen the checks and balance of politics.

The 2007 constitution, following Thaksin's ouster, was particularly designed to be tighter in its control of corruptions and conflicts of interests while reducing the authority of the government.

Government of Thailand

According to the constitution, the three major independent authorities holding the balance of power are executive, legislative, and judicial.

Although the King has little direct power under the constitution and Thailand categorizes itself as a constitutional monarchy, the King is more than a symbol of national identity and unity. The present monarch has a great deal of popular respect and moral authority, which has been used to intervene in political crises and influence the course of the government.

The head of government is the Prime Minister. Under the present constitution, the Prime Minister must be a Member of Parliament. Cabinet members do not have to be Members of Parliament. The legislature can hold a vote of no-confidence against the Premier and members of his Cabinet if it has sufficient votes. If the votes pass, the king keeps the government and king how it is, if they don't, then everything changes.

Corruption

A long history of corruption exists in Thailand, with extortion, bribery and the use of insider information to buy land among the types regularly observed.citation needed Corruption is deeply embedded in Thai society for numerous reasons, including: traditionally, officials were entitled to 10 to 30 per cent of expenditures for rendering their services, rather than a salary; a tradition of giving gifts to high officials also persists and, while these practices are not directly corrupting, the continuation of gift-giving during a period when officials receive salaries is a major basis of corruption.citation needed Corruption has also been identified in the Thai energy sector. In addition to the misallocation of finances, large bribes are received by the officials (or their families) who are responsible for choosing contractors for jobs.citation needed

In the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer study, conducted by Transparency International, 71 per cent of Thai respondents perceived the police to be corrupt/extremely corrupt, 68 per cent expressed a feeling that political parties were corrupt/extremely corrupt and 45 per cent identified corruption in the parliament/legislature. Additionally, 37 per cent reported paying a bribe to police, while this figure is 14 per cent in regard to the judiciary.1

Foreign relations of Thailand

Thailand is an active participant in international and regional organizations, and maintains a particularly close and longstanding security relationship with the United States.Thailand's foreign policy includes support for ASEAN and it has developed increasingly close ties with the organisation's other members, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Vietnam. Thailand also attends the annual meetings held by the foreign and economic ministers of the ASEAN nations, including the inaugural East Asia Summit that was held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005.2

Regional cooperation is progressing for Thailand in economic, trade, banking, political, and cultural matters. In 2003, Thailand served as an APEC host and formulated the meeting's theme: "A World of Differences: Partnership for the Future".3 Supachai Panitchpakdi, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, served as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) between 2002 and 2005.4

Political parties and elections

e • d Summary of the 23 December 2007 House of Representatives of Thailand Thai general election results
Party Constituency Proportional TOTAL
Votes % Seats Votes % Seats
People's Power Party 26,293,456 36.63 199 14,071,799 39.60 34 233
Democrat Party 21,745,696 30.30 132 14,084,265 39.63 33 165
Thai Nation Party 6,363,475 8.87 33 1,545,282 4.35 4 37
For the Motherland 6,599,422 9.19 17 1,981,021 5.57 7 24
Thais United National Development Party 3,395,197 4.73 8 948,544 2.67 1 9
Neutral Democratic Party 3,844,673 5.36 7 528,464 1.49 0 7
Royalist People's Party 1,632,795 2.27 4 750,158 2.11 1 5
Others 1,897,953 2.64 1,626,234 4.58 0
Valid votes 71,772,667* 100 400 35,535,767 100 80 480
No Votes   906,216 2.32
Invalid Votes 2,539,429 6.51
Total Turnout 38,981,412 85.38
Source: The Nation

* As constituencies elect between one and three MPs, some people have two or three votes.

Political history of the democratic era

Transition to Democracy after 1932

Following the Siamese revolution of 1932, which imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics were dominated for around fifty years by a military and bureaucratic elite, with the support of businessmen and large-scale entrepreneurs. Changes of government were affected primarily by a long series of mostly bloodless coups.

Beginning with a brief experiment in democracy during the mid-1970s, civilian democratic political institutions slowly gained greater authority, culminating in 1988 when Chatichai Choonhavan — leader of the Chart Thai Party (Thai Nation Party) — assumed office as the country's first democratically elected prime minister in more than a decade. Three years later, another bloodless coup ended his term.

Shortly afterward, the royally appointed Anand Panyarachun, a businessman and former diplomat, headed a largely civilian interim government and promised to hold elections in the near future. However, following inconclusive elections, former army commander Suchinda Kraprayoon was appointed prime minister. Thais reacted to the appointment by demanding an end to military influence in government, but demonstrations were violently suppressed by the military in May 1992. According to eyewitness reports of the confrontation near the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, soldiers may have killed seven hundred and fifty protesters after only two days of protests.

Domestic and international reactions to the violence forced Suchinda to resign, and the nation once again turned to Anand, who was appointed interim prime minister until new elections were held in September 1992. In the September 1992 elections, political parties that had opposed the military in May 1992 won by a narrow majority and Chuan Leekpai, a leader of the Democrat Party, became prime minister at the head of a five-party coalition.

Following the defection of a coalition partner, Chuan dissolved Parliament in May 1995, and the Chart Thai Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats in the subsequent election. Party leader Banharn Silpa-archa became Prime Minister, but held the office for little more than a year. Following elections held in November 1996, Chavalit Youngchaiyudh formed a coalition government and became Prime Minister. However, the onset of the Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government and forced him to hand over power to Chuan Leekpai in November 1997.

Chuan formed a coalition government based on the themes of economic crisis management and the institution of political reforms mandated by Thailand's 1997 constitution. However, the coalition collapsed several days before its term was scheduled to end.

2001–2006, the Tenure of Thaksin Shinawatra

In the January 2001 elections, telecommunications 'multimillionaire' Thaksin Shinawatra, who had relation with the 1990s junta, and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won an overwhelming victory on a populist platform of economic growth and development.

Thaksin also marginally escaped (8:7) a guilty verdict in the Constitutional Court where he was charged by the Board of Anti-Corruption of hiding hundreds-of-million-baht-worth of shares with several of his employees. A decade later, a Supreme Court ruling in another case accepted a possibility of bribery in the Constitutional Court case.

After absorbing several smaller parties, TRT gained an absolute majority in the lower house of the Parliament, controlling 296 of 500 seats. In a cabinet reshuffle of October 2002, the Thaksin administration further put its stamp on the government. A package of bureaucratic reform legislation created six new ministries in an effort to streamline the bureaucratic process and increase efficiency and accountability.

The general election held on 6 February 2005 resulted in another landslide victory for Thaksin and TRT, which controlled 374 seats in Parliament's lower house. Thaksin's populist policies found great favour in rural areas which aided him. Thaksin introduced government programs which greatly benefited rural areas of the country. These programs included debt relief for farmers still reeling from the Asian Financial Crisis and a new healthcare program that brought coverage to all Thais for Bt30 per visit (equivalent to about USD1). During the 2013–2014 Thai political crisis older residents of the Baan Dong Yaang village in Udon Thani province stated: "Before Thaksin, no politicians came here. Thaksin understood our situation and helped us."5

Despite the majority and surging popularity amongst rural Thais, Thaksin came under severe questioning for selling telecommunication shares to Temasek, a Singapore investor for about 70,000 million baht without paying any tax. More complex and high-level corruption and conspiracies were discovered and exposed by Sonthi Limthongkul, Manager Media Group owner, who reached the middle class in the capital and the cities through the only small satellite and internet media channel, ASTV.

Thaksin refused to publicly answer the questions of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), a large group of middle class Thais and a coalition of anti-Thaksin protesters led by Sonthi Limthongkul. Due to an inability to clear himself of the alleged corruption allegations, Thaksin's regime fell apart during public protests led by the (PAD), which led to widespread calls for his resignation and impeachment.

The PAD gathered in Bangkok and demanded that Thaksin resign as prime minister so that the King could directly appoint someone else. Thaksin refused and protests continued for weeks. Thaksin consequently dissolved parliament on 24 February 2006 and called a snap election for 2 April 2006. The election was boycotted by the opposition parties, leading to unopposed TRT candidates for 38 seats failing to obtain the necessary quorum of 20% of eligible votes. As the Thai constitution requires all seats to be filled from the beginning of parliament, this produced a constitutional crisis. After floating several suggestions on 4 April 2006, Thaksin announced that he would step down as prime minister as soon as parliament had selected a successor. In a televised speech to senior judges, King Bhumibol requested them to execute their duty justly.

Criminal charges and allegations of administrative abuse cases were brought against the Election Committee. The courts voided the election results, jailed the committee for abuse of power, and ordered a new round of elections for 15 October 2006. Thaksin continued to work as caretaker prime minister.

Civil movements in Thailand were active in the 2000s, with some groups perceiving the Thaksin government as authoritarian, citing extrajudicial killings in his War on Drugs, special security laws passed by the administration, and the government's increasingly hardline responses to the insurgency in the southern provinces. Thaksin's government was facing mounting opposition from the urban middle classes, while continuing to remain popular in the predominantly poor and rural North and Northeastern regions. However, the most severe critic of Thaksin seemed to be Sondhi Limthongkul, a media tycoon and former colleague.

2006 coup

While Thaksin was in New York City to make a speech at UN Headquarters, there was a conspiracy to create a violent clash to brutally end the month-long PAD protest. Just in time to prevent the alleged clash, the military seized power on 19 September 2006.

The Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin was formed. Political activities were banned by the junta after the coup on 19 September 2006. The 1997 Constitution was abrogated, although most of the institutions of government remained intact. A new constitution was drafted and promulgated in late 2007.

A month after the coup, an interim civilian government was formed, including an appointed House of Representatives from a variety of professions and an appointed Constitutional Court. Freedom of speech was restored.

During 2006 and 2007, organized underground terrorist activities took place, including the burning numerous schools in rural areas of the north and the northeast of Thailand and the planting of bombs in ten locations in Bangkok, the latter of which killed and injured several people on New Year's Eve in 2006.

A national referendum for the 2007 constitution was called by the military and the 2007 constitution was accepted by the majority of the voters. The junta promised a democratic general election, which was finally held on 23 December 2007, sixteen months after the coup.

The constitutional court unanimously dissolved the populist Thai Rak Thai party following punishment according to the 1997 constitution, banning 111 TRT members from politics for five years.

The military drafted a controversial new constitution following allegation of Thaksin's corruption and abuse of power. This constitution was particularly designed to increase control of corruption and of conflicts of interests of politicians while decreasing the previously strengthened authority of the government. A national referendum accepted the 2007 constitution, although there was significant disapproval in Thaksin's stronghold, the north and northeast.

On 23 December 2007, a national parliamentary election was held, based on the new constitution, and the People Power Party (Thai Rak Thai's and Thaksin's proxy party), led by former Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej, began taking the reins of government. Thailand's new Parliament convened on January 21, 2008.

The People Power Party (PPP), or Thaksin's proxy party, gained the majority, yet under the half of the total seats in the Parliament, and the general election by a solid margin after five minor parties joined it to form a coalition government.

A complaint was filed against PPP in the Thai Supreme Court, charging PPP of being the TRT nominee party. Moreover, in 2008, one of its leading members was charged with electoral fraud. The Election Committee also proposed that the PPP should be dissolved due to the violation of the constitution.

2008 political crisis

In 2008, Thailand saw increasing political turmoil, with the PPP government facing pressure to step down amid mounting civil disobedience and unrest led by the PAD. The conflict centred on the constitution. The PPP supported the amendment of the 2007 constitution, while anti-government protesters considered it to be a political amnesty of Thaksin and his followers verdicted previously.

The anti-government protesters were, said, mostly better educated, more affluent, urban Thais criticizing a Western-style electoral system corrupted by rich politicians. Thaksin was accused of having exploited to buy votes, bureaucrats, policemen, military officers and even political factions. Thaksin became the example of the businessman autocrat, launching so-called populist projects, some of which were controversial, such as the War on Drugs. Hundreds of killings and murder cases noted by the police were said by them to be merely fighting among the drug traffickers, but no further investigation ever occurred. The judicial process was seen as useless; instead, decisive justice was seen to be in the hands of the police.

As the anti-government movement had criticized Thaksin as an example of corrupted politician, it discredited the present election system, suggesting at once a system in which part of the representatives in the national assembly would be chosen by certain professions or social groups.

The anti-Thaksin protesters were vastly outnumbered by Thaksin's supporters in the rural majority, who delivered to his party two resounding election victories. Their loyalty was rewarded by generous social and economic welfare programs for previously neglected provincial areas. The anti-government forces were well-organized, and had been criticized that the behind-the-scenes support of elements of the military, the country's most influential institution, seeing Thaksin supported by anti-royalists, former revolutionaries and ex-commnunists, aming at the regime change, purporting an autocratic government through the parliamentary system.6

Samak Sundaravej was elected Prime Minister of the first government under the 2007 constitution.7

Samak Sundaravej, who is an articulate politician, acknowledged being the "nominee" of fugitive Mr. Thaksin Shinawatra, personally approved by him. Samak Sundaravej's position in power, however, did not put an end to the conflict. The people claimed that Thanksin still influenced Thai politics even though he was in exile.

In 1973, he ran a prominent month-long propaganda campaign, accusing democratic students' movements of being communist rebellions, traitors and spies. The event ended in a massacre of hundreds of students at Thammasat University on October 14, 1973, and a further military coup was conducted, giving him the interior minister position in the junta.

While Prime Minister, PM Samak held daily national state television broadcasts with his own political messages. These were not well areceived by PAD. NBT, the National Broadcasting Television, the state-owned media enterprise, was openly used to counter the PAD's message, which emphasises the overturning of the current democratic system.

Former PM Thaksin had welcomed the offers to come back to Thailand in February 2008 to face corruption charges and to get close control of the PPP party, successor of his Thai Rak Thai Party.

The opposition forced a no-confidence vote on a constitutional amendment which may have resulted in the reinstatement of Thaksin's reputation.8 The failure to address dramatically rising food and energy prices, and a temple dispute with Cambodia damaged the coalition government's reputation.9

Street protests led by the PAD, the major opposition movement, began in late May after the ruling party agreed to amend the constitution. Their main objective was to block any constitutional amendment aimed chiefly at reinstating Thaksin's reputation and saving the PPP from dissolution after one of its leaders was charged with electoral fraud.

Another of PAD's objectives was to support the courts and the judicial system in justly carrying out hearing Thaksin's cases. While PM Samak has been successful in controlling the police and civil service, various courts remain independent and have issued several independent verdicts.

The Constitution Court concluded that PPP's second-in-command, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, who pressured the local officers to support his party in the previous election, would subject the party to dissolution. Both the Constitution Court. The Administrative Court also ruled that his government seriously violated the constitution and might have prejudiced national sovereignty in negotiating over the sovereignty of territory immediately adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple with Cambodia. The case brought the resignation of his first foreign minister, Nopadon Patama. Several other ministers found wrongfully informing the Anticorruption Board or Election Governing Board of important information, were discharged when this was discovered.

Previously Thaksin and Pojaman's three lawyers were caught red-handedly attempting to bribe Supreme Court judges and were given jail sentences.. That was an ominous sign for Thaksin. Later a criminal court returned a verdict against Pojaman, of tax evasion, to be jailed for three years. Days later, Thaksin and Pojaman jumped bail and issued a statement from London announcing through Thai TVs his decision to seek political asylum in the UK in an attempt to avoid what he called "biased" treatment under Thailand's current judicial system.10

Thaksin and his family fled to Great Britain on August 11, 2008, to apply for political asylum11 after his wife was convicted of tax evasion.12

PM Samak Sundaravej, through his parliamentary, was able to complete budget bills for megaprojects which cost so much that the King of Thailand spoke out to protest and to thank the head of the National Bank of Thailand (under threats from the government) that the country was on the brink of disaster because of too high and careless expenditure.

From August 26, 2008, 30'000 protesters, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, occupied Sundaravej's Government House compound in central Bangkok, forcing him and his advisers to work at Don Muang International Airport, Bangkok's old international airport. Thai riot police entered the occupied compound and delivered a court order for the eviction of PAD protesters.13 Chamlong Srimuang, a leader of the PAD, ordered 45 PAD guards to break into the main government building on Saturday.14 3 regional airports were closed for a short period and 35 trains between Bangkok and the provinces were canceled. Protesters raided the Phuket International Airport tarmac on the resort island of Phuket Province resulting to 118 flights canceled or diverted, affecting 15,000 passengers.15

Protesters also blocked the entrances of the airports in Krabi and Hat Yai (which were later re-opened). Police issued arrest warrants for Sondhi Limthongkul and the 8 other PAD leaders on charges of insurrection, conspiracy, unlawful assembly and refusing orders to disperse.16 Meanwhile, General Anupong Paochinda stated: "The army will not stage a coup. The political crisis should be resolved by political means." Samak and the ruling coalition called for an urgent parliamentary debate and session for August 31.1718

PM Samak Sundaravej tried using legal means involving through civil charges, criminal charges and violent police force to remove the PAD protesters from the government office on August 29.1920 However, the PAD managed to get temporary reliefs from courts enabling them to legally continue the siege of the government office.

One person died and forty people were wounded in a clash, which occurred when the DAAD (NohPohKoh) protesters, supported by Thaksin and the PPP party moved toward PAD at about 3am of September 2 without adequate police intervention.21

By the second of half of September 2008, PM Samak Sundaravej was the subject of several court cases for his past actions. An Appeal Court verdict upon a long-standing criminal charge of slander may jail him. A Constitutional Court will return verdict upon whether he has a conflict of interest by being a private employee while holding a PM position. The Anti-Corruption Board may bring a charge of abuse of power in the Preah Vihear case to the Constitutional Court. These instantaneously terminated PM Samak's political role. While fugitive ex-PM Thaksin and Pojaman would also face verdicts from the Supreme Court.22

People Power Party's deputy spokesman Kuthep Suthin Klangsang, on September 12, 2008, announced: "Samak has accepted his nomination for prime minister. Samak said he is confident that parliament will find him fit for office, and that he is happy to accept the post. A majority of party members voted on Thursday to reappoint Samak. Samak is the leader of our party so he is the best choice." Despite objections from its five coalition partners, the PPP, in an urgent meeting, unanimously decided to renominate Samak Sundaravej. 5 coalition parties, namely Chart Thai, Matchima Thipataya, Pracharaj, Puea Pandin and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, unanimously agreed to support the People Power party (PPP) to set up the new government and vote for the person who should be nominated as the new prime minister. Chart Thai deputy leader Somsak Prissananantakul and Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana leader Chettha Thanajaro said the next prime minister was nominated. Caretaker prime minister Somchai Wongsawat said PPP secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee will notify the 5 parties who the PPP nominated, to take office again.232425 Some lawmakers, however, said they will propose an alternate candidate. Meanwhile, Thailand's army chief General Anupong Paochinda said he backed the creation of a national unity government that would include all the country's parties, and he also asked for the lifting of a state of emergency that Samak imposed on September 2.26

Embattled Samak Sundaravej abandoned his bid to regain his Thailand Prime Minister post, and he also resigned the People's Power Party (PPP) leadership.2728 Meanwhile, PPP's chief party spokesman Kudeb Saikrachang and Kan Thiankaew announced on September 13 that caretaker prime minister Somchai Wongsawat, caretaker justice minister Sompong Amornwiwat and PPP Secretary-General Surapong Suebwonglee were PPP's candidates for premiership post.29 However, Suriyasai Katasila of People's Alliance for Democracy (a group of royalist businessmen, academics and activists), vowed to continue its occupation of Government House if a PPP candidate would be nominated: "We would accept anyone as prime minister, as long as he is not from the People's Power Party."30

On September 14 the state of emergency was lifted.3132 The ruling People Power Party, on September 15, 2008, named Somchai Wongsawat, candidate for prime minister to succeed Samak Sundaravej.33 The PPP will endorsed Somchai, and his nomination will be set for a parliamentary vote on Wednesday. Meanwhile the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a corruption case against Thaksin and his wife, to be promulgated after the parliament vote for the new prime minister.3435

On October 4, 2008, Chamlong Srimuang and rally organiser, Chaiwat Sinsuwongse of the People's Alliance for Democracy, were detained by the Thai police led by Col. Sarathon Pradit, by virtue of August 27 arrest warrant for insurrection, conspiracy, illegal assembly and refusing orders to disperse (treason) against him and 8 other protest leaders. At the Government House, Sondhi Limthongkul, however, stated demonstrations would continue: "I am warning you, the government and police, that you are putting fuel on the fire. Once you arrest me, thousands of people will tear you apart."36 Srimuang's wife, Ying Siriluck visited him at the Border Patrol Police Region 1, Pathum Thani.3738 Other PAD members still wanted by police include Sondhi, activist MP Somkiat Pongpaibul and PAD leaders Somsak Kosaisuk and Pibhop Dhongchai.39

On October 7, 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned and admitted partial responsibility for violence due to police tear gas clearance of the blockade of the parliament, causing injuries to 116 protesters, 21, seriously injured. His resignation letter stated: "Since this action did not achieve what I planned, I want to show my responsibility for this operation."404142 But after dispersal, 5'000 demonstrators returned and blocked all 4 entries to the parliament building.43

The protesters attempted to hold 320 MPs and senators as hostages inside the Parliament building, cutting off the power supply, and forcing Somchai Wongsawat to escape by jumping a back fence after his policy address. But other trapped MPs failed to leave and flee from the mob. The siege on the area beside the near prime minister’s office forced the government to transfer its activities to Don Muang International Airport, Bangkok's former international airport.4445

On November 26, 2008, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) issued a statement saying that the current crisis is a watershed moment for democracy and rule of law in Thailand. It contains harsh critique of PAD and the criminal justice system of Thailand. This critique should not be seen as one-sided as AHRC have a history of also being critical of the current government (per nov 2008), the Thai Supreme Court, the earlier military junta and the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

2009–2010 protests and crackdowns

Abhisit's rise to power was controversial and opposed from the beginning. In April 2009, anti-government protesters, known as 'The Red Shirts', began its huge demonstration aiming at the resignation of the prime minister and fresh elections. The major site of the demonstration was in Bangkok. From April 8, the demonstrators spread their activities to significant location such as main intersections. The streets were also blocked and barricaded. The demonstration took place at the same time of the ASEAN summit in Pattaya. The demonstrators also moved to protest, aiming at barring the summit. Eventually a handful of protesters stormed the hotel, the site of the summit, causing the cancellation of the summit.

In Bangkok, the protest became fiercer because of the arrest of the leaders of the Pattaya protest. The protesters blocked the entrances of the Criminal Court, urging the release of their leaders. In the afternoon, the premier Abhisit, at The Ministry of Interior, declared the State of Emergency. The protesters blocked the entrance of the Ministry, aiming at 'seizing' the premier and other ministers. However the premier could escape. In the late afternoon, the government briefed the situation. The government began to deploy anti-riot troops. The armor vehicles were seen in downtown Bangkok without a clear reason. However the anti-riot action took place in the early morning of the next day. The anti-riot troops, armed with shields, batons and M-16 guns with real bullets, started dispersing and killing the protesters on the Bangkok's streets. Clashes were seen in major streets. In some areas, the rioters in red shirts also clashed with the people as the rioters attempted to storm their living area, leaving two people living in the area killed.

The protesters also claimed that some of the protesters were killed while the government denied the charge. Although two bodies of men were found, the government found no evidence that it was involved in the killings. On the major avenues and streets in the metropolitan, burning buses were seen as well as wounded people were carried to the hospitals, but the government reported no serious cases.

In the afternoon of April 14, the military controlled all main streets. The leaders of the protest decided to give up their activity. The Thai politics after the pro-Thaksin Protest has yet been the stage of the two opposing factions; Democrat Party-led government allied with their coalition partners, who also have the tacet support of the PAD, the military, and the police, against the Thaksin loyalists, the UDD. Both sides have claimed the fighting as the struggle for democracy, and the nation.

Resolution to conflict

On May 3, the Thai Prime Minister announced he was willing to hold elections on November 14 should the opposition red shirts accept the offer. The following day red shirt leaders accepted the proposal to leave the occupied parts of Bangkok in return for election on the scheduled date.

However, one week later, May 10, protesters had yet to disband despite accepting the 'road map' proposed by the prime minister for early 2010 November elections. They placed new demands upon the prime minister that Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, who was in charge of security operations on the clash of April 10, must first turn himself in for prosecution before they willingly disperse.

On May 11, Suthep presented himself to the Department of Special Investigation. The red-shirt protesters however were not satisfied and demanded Suthep be formally charged instead by police. The red shirts failure to disperse was taken as a decline of the conciliatory 'road map' and Prime Minister Abhisit's proposal of early parliamentary elections were withdrawn. This was followed by a warning issued from the prime minister that protesters must disperse or face imminent military action. Furthermore, the 'red shirts' led another protest on the May 19. The army killed over 90 protesters people thousands injured in the subsequent military crackdown. Army tactics have been heavily criticised for failing to abide by international standards and using lethal force on unarmed protesters.46 At least six people including nurses and medics were shot by snipers inside a Buddhist temple set up as a safe area.4748

Between 2001 and 2011, Isaan's Gross Domestic Product per capita more than doubled to $1,475, according to official statistics. Over the same period, GDP in the Bangkok area soared from $7,900 to nearly $13,000.5

2013 political crisis

Following the announcement of a proposed amnesty bill by the Yingluck government, protests resurfaced in October 2013. The bill would allow former prime minister Thaksin to re-enter Thailand and the protest movement regards the Yingluck administration as corrupt, illegitimate and perceive Yingluck as a proxy for her brother. The protest movement is led by Suthep Thaugsuban and is supported by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).49

Prime Minister Yingluck dissolved the Thai parliament following the recommencement of protests and announced a new election in accordance with the Thai constitution. The constitution states that elections must be held 45 to 60 days from the date that parliament is dissolved. The protest movement opposed the election announcement and the PDRC stated that it would boycott the process, with Suthep calling for the appointment of an unelected council to lead the country until reforms can be implemented. Protesters marched to the Thai-Japanese sports stadium, the venue of the registration process, on 22 December 2013 to block the work of the election commission.50

Protesters at the Thai-Japanese sports stadium clashed with police on 26 December 2013, resulting in two fatalities (one police officer was killed by a live bullet fired by a protester).51 Protesters armed themselves with sling shots and wore gas masks to fight with police, and around 200 people were injured overall. Due to the escalation in violence, the election commission released a statement in which it urged the government to consider postponing the elections. The government explained that it is unable to change the date of the election, but it remains open to discussions with protesters.49

In his response to the media on 27 December 2013, Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha did not rule out the possibility of another military coup (11 military coups have been successful in Thai history), stating: "Whether it is going to happen, time will tell. We don't want to overstep the bounds of our authority. We don't want to use force. We try to use peaceful means, talks and meetings to solve the problem." During the same period, an arrest warrant was issued for Suthep by authorities who cite insurrection as the reason, but police have not acted on the order for fear of further disruption.51

Following the announcement of a 60-day emergency decree on 21 January 2014, Yingluck met with the EC on 27 January to discuss the possibility of postponing the election due to the latter's fear of violence on the day of the election. However, following a three-hour meeting at the Army Club venue, Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana informed the media that the polling date remained unchanged. Election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn stated that the EC would organise the February 2 vote to the best of its ability, including the enactment of measures to prevent violence and the staging of a second round of elections to accommodate voters hindered during the inaugural voting stage. During the meeting at the Army Club, an anti-government protester sustained a gunshot wound, while the gunman was arrested afterwards.52

The smooth completion of the 2 February election will not resolve Thailand's problematic political situation, as issues of continuing relevancy remain of concern to the caretaker government: firstly, due to protester blockades, 28 constituencies failed to register candidates; secondly, the constitution requires at least 475 filled seats, or 95 per cent of the total number of seats, and the problems caused by protesters mean that this target will not be reached—the EC, which believes that the final result will fall three seats short, explained that it will be necessary to hold by-elections over several months in problematic constituencies until all 500 members of the Parliament's lower house are selected. In the 2011 elections, a 75 per cent voter turnout rate was registered.5354

On 29 January, the Thai army announced is support of the CMPO operation in regard to the protection of the election. Deputy army spokesman Winthai Suvari provided details of the deployment of additional military personnel in areas of particular concern and a joint operation with the CMPO to ensure the safety of state officials and others. The army's other key responsibilities will involve providing medical aid in areas close to protest sites, as well as traffic co-ordination duties in such areas. Assistant national police chief Amnart Unartngarm stated that its 200,000 police officers, plus 1,450 rapid-deployment units, would guard 93,535 polling stations in 77 provinces.55

See also

References

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