Key Players in Thailand's Escalating Political Crisis
Political turmoil in Thailand started in late 2005 and lasted for over four years. It has been dominated by a group of core figures, national institutions, activist movements, and political groupings all defined by their relations to tycoon multi-billionaire ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the key player in Thailand politics since 2001. Here's what the current Thai political scene looks like:
Formed in late 2005, "Yellow Shirts" are a loose coalition of opponents to then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They adopted the yellow color (traditionally associated with the monarchy) to emphasize their allegiance to the throne. Called People's Alliance for Democracy (
PAD), the movement was led by Sondhi Limthongkul and Chamlong Srimuang and has had broad popular support in Bangkok. Many months of anti-Thaksin rallies and protests organized by the PAD culminated in the 19 September 2006 coup d'état that forced Thaksin out of office and into exile. On the surface, the coup appeared anti-democratic, but its supporters claimed that the ends justified the means. The massive scale of corruption under the Thaksin regime helped justify a bloodless coup and made it one of the most popular military interventions in the country's history. But in turn, it was also a major setback for democracy. Thaksin and the coup leaders have something in common. They both perverted democracy. Thaksin in a more subtle manner (well just slightly) by extreme and excessive meddling in just about everything. The military did so by simply snatching the power. So, both are wrong. However, whereas Thaksin was doing so to benefit his family and cronies, the military did so for the sake of the King and country and saved the nation from yet another dark and tragic chapter in Thailand's history. As for the PAD, the group largely disappeared from the scene during the subsequent period of military rule but re-emerged when Thaksin's allies returned to power as a result of the post-coup general election in late 2007. The PAD's campaign of street protests escalated to a four-month siege of the Government House, and finally, a blockade of Bangkok's two airports that lasted for more than a week, disrupting the Thai economy and crippling the country's vital tourism industry. The PAD stood down after Thaksin's allies lost power in December 2008, and the Parliament voted Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party as Thailand's 27th prime minister. But their absence from the scene wasn't long-lasting. Several months later, core leaders of PAD decided to transform the activist movement into a political party to clean Thai politics from corruption and injustice. The party was given birth on the 25th of May and on the 2nd of June 2009 it was officially named as Karn Muang Mai or New Politics Party. The New Politics Party ( NPsP) has scheduled to hold its first convention in two months to elect its officials including the party leader and secretary general. On 6th October 2009, Sondhi Limthongkul was elected as the leader of the newly established New Politics Party. Other top contenders for party leadership withdrew their nominations to pave the way for Sondhi's victory. Big question is, will it become a viable political party under Sondhi's leadership?
Sondhi Limthongkul Chamlong Srimuang
The "Red Shirt" protesters are supporters of
Thaksin Shinawatra, who have taken to the streets after the Democrat Party Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva came to power, which was a real blow to Thaksin's role as a behind-the-scenes political master. The group was formed in 2008 as a counter to the yellow-shirted anti-Thaksin PAD and is centered around a body known as The United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship ( UDD). Its primary backing came from Thailand's rural and urban poor, in particular in the north and northeast. It has been an open secret that red-shirts have been paid "cash in hand" by Thaksin to take part in demonstrations and riots (see the video clip further down). The Red Shirts want the current prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to resign and call elections, saying that his rise to power was illegitimate. They also accused members of the Thai elite, particularly the military and judiciary of undermining democracy. One protest banner summed it up: " Stop Privy Council Rule, Bring Back True Democracy". The actual intent of Thaksin's loyalists, however, is to bring Thaksin back to power. As of now, Thaksin remains in exile, his allies have been forced out of government, and the red-shirt riots are over. The situation in Bangkok has returned to normal. The fallout of political fighting will only become apparent in the days and weeks ahead but expect it to be appalling and long-lasting. So, where Thailand will go from here? The current political situation is fluid and fraught with uncertainty. Despite the end of this particular battle, the divisions remain deep. How long before they resurface again?
The recent escalation of protests against Abhisit's government has seen the emergence of a shadowy pro-government militia group dubbed the "Blue Shirts."
The group believed to be linked to Newin Chidchob, an influential politician from Buriram province and the son of the parliamentary speaker. Newin, once close to Thaksin's ally and a leader of a group of politicians (Friends of Newin Faction) who in late 2008, switched their allegiance in a move that was seen as a key to Abhisit's ability to form a coalition government. The Blue Shirts first appeared on the scene in March 2009, gathering outside Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport to protect it from a possible seizure by anti-government Red Shirts. Blue Shirt gangs were also seen at the beach resort of Pattaya in early April 2009, where they clashed with pro-Thaksin red-shirt protesters, who later disrupted the ASEAN summit in Pattaya. Blue Shirts Thailand's Most Important Institutions The King
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and
H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej ౼ the head of state, is highly revered by virtually all sectors of Thai society not just for being a King but also for living a virtuous and fruitful life. Since he ascended to the throne as a very young man in 1946, King Bhumibol has presided over more than 25 prime ministers and 18 constitutions. He grew into a role cultivated for him by statesmen and power brokers, men like Prem and Surayud. Both Prem and Surayud were unelected prime ministers, both have held top military command, and both are now members of the King's Privy Council. Thaksin's direct attack on men of such stature indicated a significant escalation in Thailand's ongoing political conflict. But, most ominously, in attacking these prominent royal advisors, Thaksin took a step closer to an attack on the monarchy itself. The King has long been regarded as a champion of Thailand's poor through his well-funded and high-profile rural development projects. But Thaksin's populist economic policies, which pumped money directly into the country villages, dwarfed the King's royal munificence. During the 1992 uprising, King Bhumibol played a key role in bringing an end to the violence, appearing on live TV chastising both the military and protest leaders. Since then, the most significant intervention in politics was when the King gave a speech in April 2006 calling the election undemocratic because of the absence of serious opposition. Two weeks later, the courts annulled the election, and Thaksin remained only as the head of a caretaker administration. King is now 81, and his health is fragile. He has made no public comment on the latest protests. His nonattendance at several key ceremonies has triggered further speculations about his wellness. As political heat intensifies, the country is edging ever closer to the utmost potential challenge facing the nation ౼ what to do if the King dies, and who will be able to garner the respect needed to intervene in the moment of political crisis. Many Thais feel that the King's younger daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, would be a more appropriate heir even so Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is the King's likely successor. King's death could have major implications for the country's stability. H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej Thai Military
Since 1932, when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, the military has dominated and imposed over Thai politics by appointing countless Prime Ministers and, so far, carrying out 18 coups d'état.
Officially, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces. Their primary role is to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Thailand. The Armed Forces also charged with the defense of the people and the Monarchy of Thailand against both foreign and domestic threats. Antagonism to the army's dominance peaked in 1992 following a bloody crackdown (Black May) on the mass uprising against a military junta-backed government that left at least 52 dead and many more still unaccounted for. A 1997 constitution intended to usher in a new era of Thai politics, free from military involvement. But that constitution was abrogated following the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin, after which Thailand again came under the rule of a military-backed government. In the subsequent waves of yellow- and red-shirted protests, the military has seemed unwilling to intervene, failing to stop last year's demonstrations by the PAD, taking no action against protesters blockading Bangkok's airports, and doing little to prevent the storming of the ASEAN summit in Pattaya. General Anupong Paochinda ౼ Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army Appointed by a Royal Command of King Bhumibol on 1st October 2007
Who's Who in Thai Politics
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