Thailand: A Very Brief Political History
This post was originally written on my original blog on September 27th, 2015.
Thailand has been a country of political confusion for centuries. Taking on the route of constitutional monarchy, this south-Asian tourist destination has gone through some political troubles within the past few years. While Thailand may have a democratic-esque style of government with the ideology behind a Prime Minister, nothing can touch the figurehead of the monarch, with lèse majesté (basically a law where nobody can speak ill about the king or his family) playing a major role in their daily lives. We’ve seen political and economic connections between the Thai political unrest and the American economic downfall. To understand where a majority of these problems in their current society roots from, we have to look back to the 23rd Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra.
A former business tycoon turned corrupt politician, Thaksin won a landslide victory to become Prime Minister in 2001. He was democratically elected in a country far from an actual democracy, with Thailand taking on a crude mix of autocracy and a style of government similar to Britain’s unitary democracy with heavy frameworks bolted down to the concept of constitutional monarchy. Thaksin began selling shares of his own corporations worth more than a billion US dollars to foreign investors, without paying taxes, and caused revolutions (controlled by “yellow shirts” in the People’s Alliance for Democracy) for his removal. Eventually, Thaksin was overthrown in a quick military coup in 2006. He and his party was exiled and outlawed from political activity.
After the military coup, Thailand saw several years of political unrest. America and several other world powers, such as China and Russia, merely watched. General Surayud Chulanont served as the 24th Prime Minister for 1 year and 120 days before finally settling down on the 2007 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, which modified the former rules concerning government and somewhat stabilized the concept of Thai politics. A couple more politicians take office, none reaching a full year (being removed by the Constitutional Court of Thailand), and then Abhisit Vejjajiva, an Oxford graduate, takes office as the 27th Prime Minister.
He (Abhisit) immediately began launching reform programs concerning rural and working class citizens. He worked with the United States and surrounding powers to create a $40 billion infrastructure improvement plan that would have helped the poverty rate of the country. However, his ideas were cut short by the 2010 stock market crash, which resulted in the value of the Thai baht crashing. It was around this time that the Human Rights Watch claimed Abhisit to be “the most productive censor in recent history”, which resulted in the downgrading of Thailand’s rating of media freedom.
Internet censorship was at an all-time high and anything offensive to the monarchy was hidden from public view. While many of his campaigns advocated for an increase in blocking corruption throughout the country, his Cabinet members started resigning left and right after being caught in corruption scandals. Once again the people of Thailand were on the streets in protest, leading Abhist to launch a military crackdown in 2010, in which snipers and tanks were sent against the protestors. With at least 87 deaths (79 of which were civilians) and over 50 missing, a state of emergency was declared and a curfew was enforced. Eventually, Abhist was forced to resign after a horrible defeat within the parliamentary elections of 2011.
Completely in chaos once again, “democratic” elections (mostly surrounding the House of Representatives) took place to decide upon the 28th Prime Minister of Thailand. This led to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra, the younger sister of the man (Thaksin) who technically allowed this entire chain of events to occur. She served during a very difficult period of time for the Thai people, overseeing the 2011 floods which ruined the rice industry throughout the nation. Thailand, relying on tourism and rice, felt a steady blow to the economy after the devastating natural disasters.
Refusing to declare a state of emergency (most likely in fear of what had happened to Abhist and Thaksin after such declarations), Yingluck focused on raising her authority to further manage drainage projects instead. In 2012, she reshuffled her entire Cabinet, naming herself minister of defence, and employing “loyalists” who were on United States blacklists. Around this time, United States President Barack Obama visited Thailand. He smiled and enjoyed spending time with the nowheavily-disliked Yingluck and the popularity of America throughout Thailand suffered because of this. By seemingly supporting the concepts of her government, America felt a strong disapproval from Thai citizens. This led to stronger disapprovals of the Western World throughout SouthEastern Asia.
In December 2013, further abusing her power, she dissolved the Thai Parliament and called for early elections in fear of anti-government protests. This actually led to more anti-government protests, eventually leading to an indictment and the corruption investigation of 2014. After deciding upon negligence and scheming which further harmed the economy, the Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed her from all duties on May 7th 2014. They cited cases which showed how millions of rice farmers, because of her actions, remained unpaid and unemployed.
History apparently does repeat itself, though. Mirroring what happened between Thaksin and Surayud in 2006, General Prayut(h) Chan-ocha staged a military coup which resulted in him becoming the 29th Prime Minister of Thailand. In an attempt to bring rival parties to agreement, he repealed the 2007 constitution and established the National Council for Peace and Order. He took what Abhist did and multiplied it, imposing nationwide Internet censorship, declaring nationwide curfew, banning the gatherings of more than five people, and launching a full on attack against politicians and activists, putting them on trial in military courts. He banned any talk of democracy, refuses to let anyone criticize his new government, and further pushed for the lèse majesté concepts.
Thus, we have a major political backfiring between the United States and Thailand. Already displeased with the connections between Yingluck and Obama, the Thai people have turned to countries such as China instead of America in recent events. Secretary of John Kerry made things more tense after claiming that the coups in Thailand serve no justification, ignoring the fact that General Prayut has been working on new constitutions (which have been rejected) to reinstate a working government. While this autocratic-type of military-regime is heavily disliked by the American government, people like Kerry don’t realize what they have in mind for the future Thai government. The fall of the US stock markets heavily influenced the fall of the Thai baht, leading to a destroyed economy. The floods of 2011 heavily impacted the rice industry (this affected more than just the US and the area, but the entire world), and the corruption within Thailand’s previous governments have caused tensions with neighboring Cambodia as well as American intelligence.
Throughout everything, Thailand continues to have a constitutional monarchy, but now with a very heavy military foundation. The current events since 2001 have created a domino effect that has shaped the country into what it is today. The country is attempting to reform itself, and it has attempted to go through democratization several times throughout its past. While some may claim that the banning of discussions concerning this topic in the area may lead to the country not undergoing democratization, the fact that the new constitutions are attempting to reshape a stable government that would drop all these laws can be seen as a method of doing so.
These strict autocratic laws are only in place so Prayut’s government can stabilize the problem and not have to deal with civil unrest like every government before them has. We’ve also seen heavy connections between Thailand and every country in the area, plus the United States, in terms of political unrest, economic downfall, and surveillance. We have the so-called Democratic leader of the world paying very close attention to the corrupted pot of military coup and indictment going on in the tourist safe-haven of the south-east.
Lohatepanont, Ken. “Inconvenient Truths About Thailand’s Coup.” Ken L. N.p., 06 June 2014. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
“New Thai Minister on US Blacklist.” New Thai Minister on US Blacklist. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
“List of Prime Ministers of Thailand.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015. (For proper spellings of names and political numbers)
“Statistics of the Military Crackdown of 2010.” ศนูย บรกิารการแพทย ฉุกเฉนิ กรงุเทพมหานคร ( ศนูย เอราวัณ )
ํ า น ั ก ก า ร แ พ ท ย กรงุเทพมหานคร (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
Lohatepanont, Ken “Thoughts on the Draft Constitution’s Rejection.” Ken L. N.p., 06 Sept. 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.