Monday, August 18, 2014

Thaksin Shinawatra

Continuing my history of contemporary Thai politics, drawn largely from Wikipedia data:

Not long after Thip and I married, businessman-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra campaigned against old politics, corruption, organized crime, and drugs and was voted into office as Thai prime minister in January 2001.

(Thip and I in our condo in Santa Barbara, 2001, after Thip's first year in the USA)

While Thaksin himself owned a large portion of shares in Shin Corporation (formerly Shinawatra Computer and Communications), one of Thailand's major telecommunications companies, he moved his holdings to his servants and driver until his children were old enough to be able to hold shares. The shares eventually transferred to family members. The share issue went to court and the court ruled in his favor, acquitting him from the legal clause that a prime minister cannot hold shares. Even though this legally freed him, political opposition parties and many Thai people did not accept the court ruling on this matter.

In power, Thaksin presided over the rapid recovery of the Thai economy and repaid all debts borrowed from the IMF before due date. By 2002, Thailand, and Bangkok in particular, was once again booming. As low-end manufacturing moved to China and other low-wage economies, Thailand moved upscale into more sophisticated manufacturing; both for a rapidly expanding domestic middle class market and for export. Tourism, and particularly sex tourism, also remained a huge revenue earner despite intermittent "social order" campaigns by the government to control the country's nightlife. Thaksin won an even bigger majority at elections in February 2005, securing his second consecutive term.

However Thaksin became one of the most controversial premiers in the history of Thai politics. While he was applauded as an able leader, his critics became more severe. From the very beginning of his power, he was charged with hidden assets. He was 'at war' with journalists. His close relationship with Myanmar's junta was also criticized. His policy of 'war on drug' led to the killing of thousands of 'suspects', inviting critics from human rights groups domestically and internationally. Reports of his abuse of power and his conflicts of interest were heralded.

In December 2005 media proprietor Sonthi Limthongkul launched an anti-Thaksin campaign, after his news analysis TV program – sharply critical of Thaksin – was removed. Sondhi's movement was based on accusations of Thaksin's abuse of power, corruption, human right violations, and immorality. Accusations included the improper handling of privatization of PTT and EGAT, the unfairness of the U.S.-Thailand free trade agreement, the corruption in the Suvarnabhumi Airport project, and conflicts of interest due to the Shinawatra family's continued ownership of Shin Corporation.

In January 2006, the Shinawatra family sold its shares in Shin Corporation, but due to a condition in Thai law, they did not have to pay capital gains tax. Although legal, Sonthi, his Peoples Alliance for Democracy, and the opposition claimed that the tax-free sale was immoral. Sonthi and the PAD held mass protests for months. In February 2006 Thaksin responded by calling a snap election in April. The opposition boycotted the elections, causing the Constitutional Court to later nullify the election results. Another election was scheduled for October 2006.

On September 19, 2006, with the Taksin in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Army Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin launched a successful coup 'd'etat. The October election was cancelled, the 1996 Constitution was abrogated, some key ministers arrested, and Parliament dissolved. Thaksin's diplomatic passport was cancelled, and he took up exile, mostly in the UK. The new constitution was promulgated with junta's support. The general election took place in December 2007.

In the general election on 23 December 2007, the People Power Party lead by Samak Sundaravej, Thaksin's loyal party leader, won a majority seats in the parliament, and democratic rule was restored.

The politics of Thailand after the 2006 coup still concerned the two fighting factions: supporters and opponents of Thaksin Shinawatra. The anti-Thaksinists formed the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), known as The Yellow Shirts, as they included the defense of the Crown as the symbol of the constitutional monarchy. The pro-Thaksinists aimed at lessening the royal power; combined with anti-2006 coup activists, they formed UDD, known as The Red Shirts, supporting the overthrow of the current constitution and an amnesty for Thaksin and his allies.

In mid-2008, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) renewed its large protests against the government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, who was the declared nominee of the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The protesters were also against the ruling parties's plan to amend the constitution. On 26 August 2008, the protesters occupied government buildings, including Government House.[2] Samak refused to resign, but also elected not to use force to remove the protestors.[3] Beginning August 29, protesters disrupted air and rail infrastructure mostly in Bangkok and its outskirts.[4]The protests caused one confirmed death, on September 2.[5] Later that day, Samak declared a state of emergency, banning gatherings and the use of media by the PAD.[6]

On September 9, 2008, the Constitutional Court of Thailand delivered a decision that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej had performed acts in breach of Section 267 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (2007) which prevents conflicts of interest. Sundaravej, after assuming the premiership, had engaged in a cookery show business through being the emcee for a TV show. According to the procedure for termination of a premiership, the entire Council of Ministers needed to step down together with Sundaravej. The ruling, however, did not bar him from running again for prime minister.[8] All the ministers other than Sundaravej remained in a caretaker position until a new administration was installed.

On October 5 and 4, 2008, respectively, 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 an 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."[10]

After 2008 and pretty much to present day, Thai politics has been a struggle between The Yellow Shirts and The Red Shirts, with a notable violent demonstration held in Bangkok by The Red Shirts. Taksin still remains a multi-millionaire fugitive.

References for this section and the preceeding post:

"Declaration of the State of Emergency within the areas of Bangkok Metropolis". (2008, 2 September). Government Gazette of Thailand, (vol 125, pt 144 D, special issue). pp. 1.

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