Sonthi Limthongkul

Politics of Thailand

The politics of Thailand currently take place in a 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.

Thailand has been ruled by kings since the thirteenth century. In 1932, the country officially became a constitutional monarchy, though in practice, the government was dominated by the military and the elite bureaucracy. The country's current constitution was promulgated in 2007.

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 resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.

On 23 December 2007, a general election was held following a recent military coup by the Council for National Security on 19 September 2006. The People's Power Party, led by Somchai Wongsawat, won the majority of seats in the parliament. A civilian coalition government was formed on 28 January 2008 with five other minor parties leaving the Democrats, led by Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, as the only opposition party.

Thailand and Democracy

Thailand had been a Kingdom under absolute monarchy throughout a history of over 700 years. At present she is a sixty-six-million populated Kingdom under Constitutional Monarchy.

During the past two century, the country was forced and rushed to evolve by the western imperialism and the republic parliamentary revolutionary change which came like falling dominoes started with French revolution, the fall of Russian tsar. Though under several Kings' endeavour, Thailand did not have enough time to get her population educated and prepared for both western political, industrial and economic waves of changes.

Since the conversion to the constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been a democratic only in name or only in parliamentary format. Most of the time, the country has been under military government or elite politicians, not by the people, for the people or belonging to the people. Political freedom, freedom of speech and basic human rights were strongly compromised.

Student-lead million of uprising in October 1973 lead to new vision of freeing the country from military government. Public media were allowed more freedom to criticize on politics and governments while personal rights become more respected. However, right-wing military and old-fashioned politicians like Samak Sundaravej overturned the reform with a massacre.

At the end of indochina war, flooding of foreign investments, foreign borrowing as well as poor preparation of infrastructures and social problems. Middle class people constitute only ten per cent of the sixty million population enjoyed the wealth and the increasing freedom leaving the majority poor in the rural areas and slums. The country has become more money-oriented.

Corruption and bribery in all sectors have been exponentially on the rise. Most politicians got elected because of votes-buying and return their investments by selling themselves to pass biased resolutions or corrupt budget bills. To win an election, an MP may have to pay about 10 to 30 million bahts for a price of one to five hundred bahts (10-15USD) per head. Unavoidably, military coup returned as vicious cycle.

This vicious cycle is a never-ending story. During a relatively more democratic period, middle-class in the cities ignore the poor in the rural areas. Media accept bribes. Corruptions among buraucrats and politicians have been well accomodated in practices of businesses. When it is just over the limit, military would step in.

Every time a coup was staged, some scapegoats or excuses were always made up for justification of the coup. Eventually, the following junta government would have to give people's political rights back. As a result, there have been 18 coup and a resultant 18 constitutions in the history of Thai politics.

May 1992 uprising lead to more reform through 1997 constitution aiming at check and balance of powers between strengthened government and separately elected senators and anti-corruption institutes. Administrative courts, constitutional courts and election-control committee were designed to join the check and balance of corruptors.

2007 constitution, following Thaksin's case, was particularly designed to be more tighter in control of corruptions and conflicts of interests of politicians whereas decrease the authority of the government.

Government of Thailand

Three major independent authorities in balance of power according to the constitutions are executive, legislative, and judicial.

The King has little direct power under the constitution but is 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 resolve political crises.

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 could hold a vote of no-confidence against the Premier and members of his Cabinet if it had sufficient votes.

Foreign relations of Thailand

Thailand's foreign policy includes support for ASEAN in the interest of regional stability and emphasis on a close and longstanding security relationship with the United States.

Thailand participates fully in international and regional organizations. It has developed increasingly close ties with other ASEAN members--Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam--whose foreign and economic ministers hold annual meetings. Regional cooperation is progressing in economic, trade, banking, political, and cultural matters. In 2003, Thailand served as APEC host. Supachai Panitchpakdi, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, currently serves as Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO). In 2005 Thailand attended the inaugural East Asia Summit.

Political parties and elections

'''Summary of the 23 December 2007 House of Representatives of Thailand Thai general election results |- !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left valign=top rowspan="2"|Party !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=center valign=top colspan="3"|Constituency !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=center valign=top colspan="3"|Proportional !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=center valign=center rowspan="2"|TOTAL |- !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |Votes !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |% !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |Seats !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |Votes !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |% !style="background-color:#E9E9E9" align=left |Seats |- |align=left|People's Power Party |26,293,456 |36.63 |199 |14,071,799 |39.60 |34 |233 |- |align=left|Democrat Party |21,745,696 |30.30 |132 |14,084,265 |39.63 |33 |165 |- |align=left|Thai Nation Party |6,363,475 |8.87 |33 |1,545,282 |4.35 |4 |37 |- |align=left|For the Motherland |6,599,422 |9.19 |17 |1,981,021 |5.57 |7 |24 |- |align=left|Thais United National Development Party |3,395,197 |4.73 |8 |948,544 |2.67 |1 |9 |- |align=left|Neutral Democratic Party |3,844,673 |5.36 |7 |528,464 |1.49 |0 |7 |- |align=left|Royalist People's Party |1,632,795 |2.27 |4 |750,158 |2.11 |1 |5 |- |align=left|Others |1,897,953 |2.64 |— |1,626,234 |4.58 |— |0 |- |align=left style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|Valid votes |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|71,772,667* |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|100 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|400 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|35,535,767 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|100 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|80 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|480 |- |align=left style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|No Votes |colspan="3" rowspan="3" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|  |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|906,216 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|2.32 |colspan="2" rowspan="3" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"| |- |align=left style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|Invalid Votes |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|2,539,429 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|6.51 |- |align=left style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|Total Turnout |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|38,981,412 |align="right" style="background-color:#E9E9E9"|85.38 |- |colspan=8 align=left|Source: The Nation
* As constituencies elect between one and three MPs, some people have two or three votes. |}

Recent political history

Transition to democracy and Vicious Circle

Following the 1932 revolution which imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics were dominated for a half century by a military and bureaucratic elite, in collaboration with a dozen or so oligarchs commonly known as persons of influence. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of 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, yet another bloodless coup ended his term.

Shortly afterward, the military appointed Anand Panyarachun, a businessman and former diplomat, to head 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. Demonstrations were violently suppressed by the military; in May 1992, according to eyewitness reports of action near the democracy monument in Bangkok, soldiers may have killed seven hundred and fifty protesters after only two days of protest.

Domestic and international reaction to the violence forced Suchinda to resign, and the nation once again turned to Anand Panyarachun, who was named interim prime minister until new elections in September 1992. In those elections, the 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 subsequent elections. Party leader Banharn Silpa-archa became Prime Minister but held the office only little more than a year. Following elections held in November 1996, Chavalit Youngchaiyudh formed a coalition government and became Prime Minister. 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 institution of political reforms mandated by Thailand's 1997 constitution. It collapsed just days before its term was scheduled to end.

The rise and fall of Thaksin Shinawatra

In the January 2001 elections, telecommunications multimillionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won an overwhelming victory on a populist platform of economic growth and development.

Thaksin also marginally survived (8:7) a guilty verdict in a constitutional court where he was charged by the Board of Anti-Corruption because of hiding hundreds-of-million-baht-worth of shares with several of his employees. A decade later, a supreme court ruling in another case accept a possibility of bribery in that constitutional 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. Actually, what happened was, the new seats were for rewarding his team-mate's loyalty. The only say was from Thaksin or to be more precise, Pojaman, his wife and the major funding source of the government coalition.

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. The popularity of Thaksin's populist policies in rural areas and the advantage of being a government are obvious in Thai politics.

Despite the winning majority, Thaksin became stongly questioned on selling telecommunication shares to Temasek, a Singapore investor for about 70,000 million baht without paying tax. More of complex and high-level corruptions and conspiracies were discovered and exposed by the stood-up well-articulated Sonthi Limthongkul, the manager media group owner, who can join the middle class in the capital and the cities through the only small satellite and internet media channel, ASTV.

Thaksin refused to publicly answer PAD's questions. Because of failure to clear himself in the alleged corruptions, Thaksin's regime became falling apart in public protests led by the People's Alliance for Democracy which led to widespread calls for his resignation or impeachment.

The People's Alliance for Democracy, a large group of middle class anti-Thaksin coalition, led by Sonthi Limthongkul, gathered in Bangkok, demanded Thaksin to resign from the Prime Minister position so that the King could directly appoint someone else. Thaksin refused and the protest continued for weeks.

Thaksin dissolved parliament on 24 February 2006 and called a snap election for 2 April 2006. The election was widely boycotted by the opposition, leading to unopposed TRT candidates for 38 seats failing to get the necessary quorum of 20% of eligible votes. As the Thai constitution required all seats be filled from the beginningparliament, this paradox 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. When criminal charges and administrative cases were fired upon the Election committee, the courts voided the election results, jailed them on abuse of power, and ordered a new round of elections for 15 October 2006. Thaksin remained as caretaker prime minister.

2006 coup

Poor people in the rural areas were paid and motivated to gather and moved in to form a big mob in Bangkok. During Thaksin's departure to US for a speech at UN,there was a conspiracy to make up violent clash to brutally end the month-long PAD protest. Just in time to prevent the street killing, the military seized power on 19 September, 2006.

The Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) headed 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 machinery of government remained intact. A new constitution was drafted and promulgated in late 2007.

One month after the coup, an interim civillian government was formed, including a selected house of representatives from varieties of professions and a selected house of constitution drafting. Freedom of speech was allowed and the media were relieved much more than the time under Thaksin.

Between 2006 and 2007, organized underground terrorist activities in rural areas of the north and the northeast of Thailand such as hundreds of schools were burnt. Bombs planted in public ten locations in Bangkok, killed and injured several innocent people to therat the interim governent in Thailand on the New Years eve of 2006.

A national referendum for the 2007 constitution was carried out and accepted by the majority of the voters. The junta promised a democratic general election which was finally held on 23 December 2007, 17 months after the coup. See results above:

Constitutional judges unanimously dissolved Thai Rak Thai party followed by a punnishment according to 1997 constitution, banning 111 TRT board from politics for five years.

The military drafted a controversial new constitutionfollowing allegation of Thaksin's corruption and abuse of power was particularly designed to be more tighter in control of corruptions and conflicts of interests of politicians whereas decrease the previously strengthened authority of the government. A national referendum approved the 2007 constitution with discrepancy of disapproval in the Thaksin's stronghold, the north and northeast.

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

The People Power Party (PPP)promised to be Thaksin's proxy, won the general election by a solid margin after four smaller parties joined with it to form a coalition government.

A complaint was filed against PPP in the Thai Supreme Court, charging PPP of being TRT nominee and should be dissolved and the 2007 general elections declared null and void. The Supreme Court begin hearings on the case on 15 January 2008.

2008 political crisis

In 2008, Thailand has been under increasing political turmoil, with the PPP-leading government facing pressure to step down amid mounting civil unrest.

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

Samak Sundaravej,a well-articulated politician, accepted being the proxy head of fugitive Mr.Thaksin Shinawatra, is a life-long right-wing extremist. In 1973, he ran a prominent several-month-long propaganda, accusing democratic students' movements of being communist rebellious traitors and spies. The event ended in a massacre of hundred of students at Thammasat University in October 1973 and a millitary coup whereas he was awarded an interior minister position in the junta.

In his term, PM Samak has a daily national state television programmes for his own political messages which are not well accepted by PAD. NBT, the National Broadcasting Television, the state-own media has been openly used to counter the PAD's messages.

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

The opposition forced a no-confidence vote while citing amendment of the Constitution to launder Thaksin, a failure to address rising food and gas, and a temple dispute with CambodiaEmbattled PM Survives Vote 28 Jun 2008

Street protests and civil disobedience began in late May and have been increasing in intensity. Their main objective has been to block the amendment of constitution which has also been one primary way of Thaksin to launder himself and his TRT members from serious corruption charges.

Another of PAD's objectives is to back up the courts and the justice system to justly carry out the judging of Thaksin's cases. While PM Samak has been successful to get the police and civil servants under control, various courts remain independent and have issued several verdicts.

Constitution court judged that PPP's second-in-command head Yongyuth Tiyapairat, baught votes which would subject the party for resolving soon. Whereas constitution court and administrative court both ruled that his government seriously violated the constitution and might have affected the national soveriegnty in negotiating Preah Vihear Temple with Cambodia. The case brought a termination of his first foreigm minister, Nopadol Patama. Several other ministers found wrongfully informed the Anticorruption Board or Election Governing Board of important info, were discharged when got caught.

Thaksin and Pojaman's three lawyers got caught red-handed attempting to bribe supreme court justices. They were sentenced to jail. 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 bails and issued a statement from London to announce through Thai TVs his decision to seek asylum in UK in an attempt to avoid what he called "unfair" treatment under Thailand's current judicial system.

Thaksin and his family fled to Great Britain (Aug 11) to apply for asylum after his wife was convicted of tax evasion.

PM Samak Sundaravej , through the majority in the house of parliament, has finished the budgeting bills for megaprojects. The deals cost so much that the King of Thailand for the first time spoke out to protect 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 careless expenditures.

PM Samak Sundaravej said "I will never resign in response to these threats. I will not dissolve the House. I will meet the King today to report what's going on." He met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Hua Hin palace. For the 5th day, 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 out of a military command post. Thai riot police entered the occupied compound and delivered a court order for the eviction of protesters. Chamlong Srimuang ordered 45 PAD guards to break into the main government building on Saturday. 3 regional airports remain closed 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.

Protesters also blocked the entrance of the airports in Krabi and Hat Yai (which was later re-opened). Police issued arrest warrants for Sondhi Limthongkul and 8 other protest leaders on charges of insurrection, conspiracy, unlawful assembly and refusing orders to disperse. Meanwhile, Gen. Anupong Paochinda stated: "The army will not stage a coup. The political crisis should be resolved by political means." Samak and the Thai Party ruling coalition called urgent parliamentary debate and session for August 31.

PM Samak Sundaravej tried using hands of laws through civil charges, criminal charges and police force with violence to remove PAD from the government office on August 29. However, PAD managed to get tempory reliefs from courts enabling them to legally continue the seige of the government office.

Some more violence and a fatality clash with 40 people wounded occured when red NoPoKo supported by PPP party moved toward PAD at about 3am of September 2 without adequate police intervention.

By the second of half of September 2008, PM Samak Sundaravej would be judged by several courts for his past actions. An appeal court verdict upon a several-years-ago criminal charge of slander could jail him. A constitutional court will return verdict upon a conflict of interest of him being a private employee while holding a PM position. Board of Anti-corruption may fire a charge of abuse of power in Preah Vihear case to Constitutional court. These all could instantaneously terminate PM Samak's political role. While fugitive ex-PM Thaksin and Pojaman would also face verdicts from supreme courts.

People Power Party's deputy spokesman Kuthep Suthin Klangsang, on September 12, 2008, announced that: "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 Thursday to reappoint Samak. Samak is the leader of our party so he is the best choice." Despite objections from its 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 who will be nominated on Friday. Caretaker prime minister Somchai Wongsawat said PPP secretary-general Surapong Suebwonglee will notify the 5 parties who the PPP nominates to take office again. 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 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.

Embattled Samak Sundaravej abandoned his bid to regain his Thailand Prime Minister post, and Teerapon Noprampa said Samak would also give up the ruling People's Power Party (PPP) leadership. 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. 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.

On September 14 the state of emergency was lifted. The ruling People Power Party, on September 15, 2008, named Somchai Wongsawat, candidate for prime minister to succeed Samak Sundaravej. PPP will endorse Somchai at a meeting at 2:00 pm (0700 GMT), and his nomination will be set for parliament vote Wednesday. Meanwhile the Supreme Court will rule Wednesday in a corruption case against Thaksin and his wife, to be promulgated after the parliament vote for the new prime minister.

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 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. Srimuang's wife, Ying Siriluck visited him at the Border Patrol Police Region 1, Pathum Thani. Other PAD members still wanted by police include Sondhi, activist MP Somkiat Pongpaibul and PAD leaders Somsak Kosaisuk and Pibhop Dhongchai.

On October 7, 20008, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned and admitted partial responsibility for violence due to police tear gas clearance of Parliament blockade, causing injuries to 116 protesters, 21, seriously. His resignation letter stated: "Since this action did not achieve what I planned, I want to show my responsibility for this operation. But after dispersal, 5,000 demonstrators returned and also blocked all 4 entries to the parliament building.

The protesters attempted to hostage 320 parliamentarians and senators inside the Parliament building, cutting off power, and forcing Somchai Wongsawat to escape by jumping a back fence after his policy address. But other trapped legislators failed to leave and flee from the mob. The 6-week sit-in and siege on the area beside the near prime minister’s office forced the government to transfer its activities to a former international airport.

References

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