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Thai Politics - Thailand's Recent Political History Of Prime Ministers

Updated on September 5, 2011

Thai Politics

The political situation in Thailand has made headlines lately, with violent protests and clashes with police and military. Red shirt supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra forced the cancellation of a summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) in April 2009. Then in May 2010, violent protests erupted in the Thai capital of Bangkok, leading to the death of more than 50 people, including the violent assassination of Red Shirt leader Seh Daeng.

Local Thai television showed the live footage of Seh Daeng being shot in the head by an apparent sniper rifle. The Thai government and military denied any responsibility for the killing. The military was able to bring the situation under control, only after a great loss of life and the destruction of several buildings including Central World Shopping Center. The political situation today is still very unstable and it seems that more violence is imminent. In this article we will discuss the history over the past decade leading up to the tension we see today.


PM Thaksin Shinawatra
The former police officer began his political career with the Thai Rak Thai Party in 1998, and was elected Prime Minister in 2001. Thaksin was the first PM in Thailand to serve his full term. Thaksin is credited with reducing poverty in Thailand by 50% over his first 4 years, and also creating a universal health care system. Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai Party enjoy overwhelming support in Thailand's rural northeastern provinces. In 2005 Thaksin and his political party won a landslide election for a second term as Prime Minister. Following the election the Shinawatra government also faced allegations of electoral fraud and corruption. Despite still being overwhelmingly popular, Thaksin was overthrown by a coup and replaced with a military junta in 2006. The Thailand Supreme Court found Thaksin guilty of a conflict of interest and sentenced him in absentia to two years imprisonment. Despite all these troubles, Thaksin remains popular today, and would likely win an election if he was allowed to run for office.

Thaksin's Drug War
In 2003 Thaksin introduced a "No Red Tape Policy" on drug offenses. This was basically a "shoot first and ask questions later" attitude towards law enforcement. Human rights groups have condemned this as a policy of state-sanctioned murder. As many as 600 people were killed by police in just 1 month in 2003 during the peak of this policy. In 2003, alone, more than 2,500 people were killed in the 'war on drugs' that was unleashed by the Thaksin government to combat growing concern about the high number of Thai teenagers being hooked on methamphetamines. Many of the victims were Innocent and may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. "The government's strategy is to smoke out pushers, who will be eliminated by their own kind," Thaksin said.

The Military Junta
The military Junta was headed by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, and they were also know as "Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarchy". It is said that they were given the blessing of the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is quoted as saying, "So as to maintain peace and order in the nation, His Majesty the King has graciously granted a Royal Command appointing General Sonthi Boonyaratglin as Leader of the Council for Democratic Reform". In May 2007, it was revealed that the First Army Commander Prayuth Chan-ocha had been placed in charge of a secret army unit with a 319.1 million baht budget for mobilizing mass support for the junta. Lt. Gen. Prayuth claimed that he had acted in line with army policy, and that his activities were to serve communities, and not to seek political gain. The junta ruled until 2007 when elections were held for the first time since the coup.

PM Samak Sundaravej
In 2007, the first elections after the coup, the People's Power Party came to power with Samak as their leader. He was accused of being a proxy for the exiled Thaksin by the PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy). The People's Power Party was made up of several former members of the Thai Rak Thai Party, and many people feel that Samak was hand picked as their leader by Thaksin. His reign as leader did not last long, after a vote of no confidence in 2008, he was replaced by Somchai Wongsawat. Samak died from cancer at the age of 73 on the morning of November 24, 2009.

PM Somchai Wongsawat
Somchai is the brother in law of Thaksin Shinawatra. Somchai was never elected, after the premiership of Samak Sundaravej had been dissolved by the ConCourt for contravening the conflict of interests law, Somchai was successfully nominated Prime Minister. Much like Samak, Somchai's leadership was short lived. During the political and financial crisis of 2008, he suffered the same fate as Samak. His government was terminated by the same ConCourt in 2008 and he was replaced as Prime Minister.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva
Abhisit was officially endorsed as the Prime Minister of Thailand by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 17 December 2008, following a vote by members of Parliament. Abhisit was born in England and educated at Oxford University. During the violent protests in 2010, Abhisit promised elections in November of 2010, however he retracted this offer once the protesters continued to rally. In the past the PAD or "yellow shirts" have supported his regime, but currently there is little support and speculation is that there may be another coup on the horizon.

Yingluck Shinawatra
In 2011, The sister of former PM Thaksin becomes Thailand's first female PM. Winning the election with an overwhelming majority, a result of strong support in rural Northeastern Thailand. With Thaksin's sister taking power, many people feel that it is only a matter of time before Thaksin triumphantly returns to Thailand.

Red-Shirt Protests


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      Abdulmobeen 2 years ago

      Hi Santikaro,I've lived in Thailand for four years now. I've not usually paid anittteon to political goings-on now, but I was hired by to do their gothailand' blog and as a result must keep up on things.A lot of Thais talk about the vast amount of Thaksin's money (over a billion USD I believe) that has been locked down by the courts. They say he will fight very hard for that, and the face his family has lost. Thaksin is incredibly smart, knowing just how to manipulate people and politics. The feeling here is that he'll be back as PM, and I must agree with you it will be a very bad time for this country. I agree with you too that PAD is the lesser of the two evils, but PAD is really going about things the wrong way. Peaceful protests without upping the ante so much, so fast would have been more ideal. They're very emotional about the issue of being had' for so long though. Understandably they're very upset and want change NOW, not in a year, two years when Thaksin had a chance to slink back and slip right back into power with hardly anyone batting an eye.As much as a military coup is unwelcome economically, I think it's becoming the best option to allay PAD's fears that Thaksin will return quickly. If there's a coup for another year or 6 months, then elections are held maybe, just MAYBE Thaksin will be out of favor by then. Perhaps the PPP party will change to the TRPP (Thaksin Reincarnation Power Party) and buy out that election too. I watched friends in Ubon come back from polls saying they were given 500 baht each and some old men were given Viagra. I didn't read about this it happened, 100% sure.It's sad to see Thailand's people under such poor rule. Politics in this country have been corrupt through and through for so long, and the Thai mai bpen rai attitude so anti-persecutory that it will likely persist for another 20 years or more. Thailand is the most incredible place I don't want to leave, ever. The people are really amazing and deserve leaders that care about the country as a whole, not see politics as the best place to be to grab a piece of the pie for themselves, family and friends.Are you still in Thailand then? Vern (in Krabi)

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      Chaas 2 years ago

      That's cleared my thoughts. Thanks for cotiributnng.

    • TravelinAsia profile image

      TravelinAsia 6 years ago from Thailand/Southeast Asia

      Thailand's newest PM, Yingluck, the sister of exiled Thaksin Shinawatra. Would anyone like to speculate on how long she will be in power?