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Thaksin Shinawatra, The Only Prime Minister In Thailand's History To Serve A Full Term

Updated on October 2, 2011

Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin was elected Prime Minister in 2001 representing the Thai Rak Thai Party. His most notable accomplishment may be that he was the first PM in Thailand to serve his full term. Thaksin is also credited with reducing poverty in Thailand by 50% during his first 4 years, and also creating a universal health care system. Thaksin and the Thai Rak Thai Party still enjoy overwhelming support in Thailand's rural northeastern provinces. In 2005 Thaksin and his political party won another landslide election for a second term as Prime Minister. Following this election the Shinawatra government 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. He has since been accused of organizing the political unrest in Thailand over the past few years.

Thaksin's Drug War

Thaksin introduced a "No Red Tape Policy" on drug offenses in 2003. 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.

Allegations Of Corruption

Thaksin has been widely critisized for the sale of Shin Corp (a telecommunications company controlled by his family). In 2004 Thaksin endorsed a multimillion-dollar government loan to Burma, saying "It is a chance to help the impoverished country finance construction and telecommunications projects using Thai suppliers". Critics said that the US $97 million in low-interest assistance would also benefit Shin Corp. Many people (including his supporters) feel that Thaksin used his office during his five years in power to boost the fortunes of his media and telecommunications empire and other financial gain. His purchase of Manchester City Football Club only fueled these allegations. Thaksin supporters will argue that despite his questionable business dealings, he was still good for the country.

Purchase Of Manchester City F.C.

Prior to his purchase of Man City, Thaksin had been interested in purchasing shares in Everton, and had proposed a state lottery in order to fund the £65 million deal. Thaksin was forced to scrap plans for a special lottery to fund his move for a 30% stake in the club. Thaksin purchased Manchester City Football Club in May of 2007, however the deal was thrown into doubt when Thailand's Military Government froze £830 million of Shinawatra's assets after they investigated allegations of corruption made against him. Thaksin finally acquired a 75% share in the club in July of 2007, becoming the majority owner and gaining full control over the club.. One of his first moves was to announce former-England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson as his new manager. Thaksin was forced to sell the team to Sheikh Mansour in 2008.

Advisor to Cambodia

Thaksin became an economic advisor for Cambodia in November of 2009. This increased tension between Thailand and Cambodia, and resulted in Thailand recalling their ambassador and taking other measures to protest his appointment. Thailand and Cambodia continue to be engaged in a border battle over a century-long dispute involving the area surrounding the 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple. Tensions eased when Thaksin resigned as economic adviser to Phnom Phen in August of 2010. In January of 2011 battles intensified with Thai troops and Cambodian troops both suffering casualties.

Red Shirt Rallies

In 2009 Thaksin "Red Shirt" supporters forced the cancellation of an ASEAN summit after anti-government protesters storm the summit venue in the resort of Pattaya. Later in 2009 an estimated 20,000 Thaksin supporters rallied in Bangkok to demand elections. Former PM Thaksin addressed the protesters by video-link. After limited success in 2009, the anti government activists raised the stakes in May of 2010, paralyzing the country's capital for two months in support of their demands for the resignation of PM Abhisit and early elections. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva offered elections but then later retracted the offer. The Thai military eventually silenced the protesters using force, resulting in an estimated 85 deaths and 1,378 injured.

Democracy In Thailand

Thailand and democracy in the same sentence? This may seem like an oxymoron when you consider that Thaksin is the ONLY Prime Minister in Thailand's history to serve his full term. When you take into account that freedom of speech is not a legal right, as criticism of government and other political powers can result in lengthy jail terms. The list of the Prime Ministers of the past decade has fewer elected officials than appointed officials. As a foreigner living in Thailand I am not allowed to vote, so I do not support either side of the political debate. I do however believe that the people are not currently given the opportunity to vote and choose their political leaders. Perhaps the country would be worse off with a leadership of the so called "Red Shirts"? At least it would be closer to a democracy.
The elections over the past decade have been dominated by political parties made up of Thaksin supporters, then elected officials have promptly been removed by "other political powers". This is not a democratic political environment.


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