Twenty years of political turmoil in Thailand 2023

During two decades of political instability, Thailand has experienced two coups, the removal of three prime ministers by court rulings, intermittent violence, and debilitating color-coded street demonstrations.

Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications magnate, is elected prime minister in 2001 on a populist platform. He is extremely well-liked and widely regarded as a revolutionary prime minister who oversaw economic development, gave priority to the rural impoverished, and courted foreign investors with modernization plans.

Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party wins another election by a landslide in 2005, becoming the first Thai party to be re-elected.

The tax-free transfer of his family’s Shin Corporation to Singapore state investor Temasek for 73 billion baht ($2.16 billion) in 2006 exacerbates allegations of Thaksin’s corruption, cronyism, nepotism, and abuse of power.

His adversaries organize enormous protests against him, with participants adorning yellow shirts, the color of the monarchy, and accusing him of disloyalty to the king. Thaksin denies misconduct.

Thaksin is ousted by the royalist military while he is in New York, and he seeks temporary refuge in the United Kingdom. Thai Rak Thai is dissolved for violating election law, and Thaksin and party executives receive a five-year suspension from politics.

The following are significant occurrences preceding Sunday’s election.

Thai Rak Thai is rebranded as the People Power Party (PPP) and wins an election in 2007. Former Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej becomes prime minister.

In February of 2008, Thaksin returns to Thailand. Samak is disqualified as prime minister for participating in a culinary program on television, and Thaksin’s brother-in-law, Somchai Wongsawat, assumes the position.

The Yellow Shirts occupy Bangkok’s two international terminals for ten days, and the blockade concludes when a court disbands the PPP for electoral fraud. In its stead, the Pheu Thai Party is established.

At the leadership of the newly formed coalition government is the opposition Democrat Party. Thaksin goes into self-imposed exile before he is found guilty of a conflict of interest and sentenced to two years in prison.

2009: The “red shirt” movement of primarily rural Thaksin supporters holds weeks of rallies in Bangkok against the Democrat-led government, claiming that it is unelected and illegitimate.

Redshirts storm a summit in Pattaya, compelling the leaders of China, Japan, and Southeast Asian nations to evacuate. After clashes between demonstrators and the military, unrest and arson break out in Bangkok.

2010: The red shirt demonstrations resume and demonstrators set up camp for ten weeks in Bangkok’s business district, paralyzing commerce. On multiple occasions, the army’s efforts to disperse the demonstrations result in the deaths of more than 90 people, the vast majority of whom are demonstrators; this is the worst political violence in nearly two decades.

Pheu Thai wins a resounding election in 2011. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s popular but politically inexperienced sister, becomes prime minister.

A few days before the election, Thaksin announced that he intends to return after 17 years in exile.

2013: After Yingluck’s government introduces an amnesty measure that could have led to Thaksin’s return, anti-government protests resumed in Bangkok. The bill is defeated, but protests continue for months. Yingluck called for an immediate election.

2014: Elections are conducted but declared invalid due to disruptions. The protests intensify and the government’s seat is invaded, but Yingluck’s government remains steadfast. The declaration of martial law prevents violence.

After a court deems her culpable of abuse of power, Yingluck resigns. The military convenes a meeting between the government and demonstrators in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis. During the meeting, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha announces that the negotiations have failed and the military is seizing power.

2016 marks the end of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 70-year reign. His successor is King Maha Vajiralongkorn, his son.

Yingluck flees Thailand in 2017 prior to a verdict against her and a five-year prison sentence for her role in her government’s rice subsidy scheme. A constitution crafted by the military is approved in a referendum.

Prayuth’s army-backed Palang Pracharat party obtains fewer seats than Pheu Thai but establishes the government in 2019, with Pheu Thai in opposition. By a vote of the lower house and the junta-appointed Senate, Prayuth is elected prime minister. Prayuth refutes claims by opposition parties that the election was manipulated.

A court disbands the opposition Future Forward Party in 2020. Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, its billionaire proprietor, is forbidden from politics. For the first time, student-led demonstrations demand reform of the monarchy.

2021: Protests subside as COVID-19 restrictions are tightened. The number of legal proceedings against protest leaders increases.

2023: Prayuth calls a May 14 election. Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of Thaksin, is a Pheu Thai candidate for prime minister.

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