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Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party

the Thai Rak Thai Party, led by Thaksin Shinawatra, won a landslide victory in 2001 because of its populist policies. The hidden conflicts then were revealed and the poor had greater access to resources; they began to receive benefits from the state, such as low-cost universal health coverage and other facilities. This led to the saying that the poor choose the government, while the middle class set policies and topple the government. Yet the Thai Rak Thai Party was also the largest gathering of the well-to-do ever seen in Thai politics. Hence, the country faced the problem of corruption through policies.

TRT's dominant leader wes Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with TRT Secretary-General (and Transportation Minister) Suriya Jungrungruengkit in the role of key political operative. TRT had more registered members, 14.4 million, then any other party and its current parliamentary strength -- 329 MPs (266 Constituency and 63 Party-List MPs) -- overshadowed all of its coalition partner and opponent parties. Regionally, TRT members of Parliament (MP) are found in the great urban center of Bangkok, and the voter-rich rural provinces of the North and Northeast.

In his first term, Thaksin,s strong leadership and the TRT's decisive majority in Parliament allowed him to implement the "populist" policies he articulated in his campaign for victory in 2001. These policies -- especially the 30 baht Health Care scheme, the Farmers, Debt Suspension and Revitalization program, and the 1 million baht revolving Village and Community Fund -- cemented his popularity with the rural electorate. Despite opposition accusations of conflict-of-interest and corruption, and some setbacks from the avian flu scare and continuing violence in Thailand's south, Thaksin has maintained a high level of popular approval.

For February 6, 2005 parliamentary election, Thaksin came up with new populist policies to run on, such as the so-called Small, Medium, Large village fund (SML) village improvement fund program, a large public works transportation project, and expansion of the country's irrigation water network in the rural areas. Winning TRT parliamentary candidates were expected to return Thaksin to office handily. Many observers believed the election was not about which party will win, but how wide the TRT majority would be after the votes were counted.

Thaksin liked to project an image of TRT, the party he founded, as modern and policy-oriented. However, despite his clear dominance of TRT, he still had to balance off the interests of party factions to keep winning candidates in his corner and stay in fullest control of the party and national politics. As of 2005 there were five major factions within the TRT:

  1. Wang Buaban was the largest and most influential faction. It was led by Yowvapa Wongsawat, an MP from Chiang Mai and Thaksin's sister. Other key Wang Buaban figures are Suriya Jungrungruengkit, TRT secretary-general, and Somsak Thepsutin, the TRT deputy leader. Most faction members were MPs from the North, with some MPs from the Northeast.
  2. Wang Namyen was led by Sanoh Thienthong, a veteran politician and financier, who earned an unsavory reputation as an influential New Aspiration Party (NAP) figure. He was chairman of the TRT advisory board. Sanoh's faction was the second largest group with most, if not all, members coming from the Northeast. It was once the most influential faction, but its influence waned with the emergence of the Wang Buaban group. Other leading figures in this faction were Sora-at Klinpratoom, the TRT deputy leader, and Chuchip Hansawat, an executive member and former Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives.
  3. Wang Phayanak was the faction of mainly former Seritham party MPs who merged with the TRT in July 2001. Pinij Jarusombat, the former leader of the Seritham party, by 2005 a TRT deputy leader, was the faction leader. Prachuap Chaiyasan, a Thai trade representative, and Ekkaphap Polsue, TRT deputy secretary-general, were other key figures. This faction had good relations with the Wang Buaban faction and been supportive in intra-party maneuvering.
  4. The "Chart Pattana" faction become part of TRT in an official merger between the Chart Pattana party (CP) into TRT in September 2004. Suwat Liptapanlop, the wealthy former leader of CP, is this faction's leader. Suwat's electoral stronghold is in the Northeast, especially in Nakhon Ratchasima, where his influence permeates every political level.
  5. The "Bangkok faction," comprised of TRT MPs from the capital city, is led by Sudarat Keyuraphun, the deputy leader. This faction's influence also extends to some neighboring provinces. PM Thaksin prizes Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, the faction leader, for her political expertise and her opinion carries much weight in TRT councils. Other key members are Suranand Vejjajiva, the clever and articulate TRT party spokesman, and Pimuk Simaroj, TRT deputy spokesman.
Major financial backers of TRT include the Shin Corp (owned by the Shinawatra family), the CP Corporation, and corporations run by Secretary General Suriya Chunrungruengkit and Deputy Leader Adisai Photharamik.

In February 2005 national elections, then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's TRT Party won an absolute majority of 377 seats in the 500-seat lower house of parliament and formed a government without entering into a coalition. On 24 February 2006, amid massive antigovernment street demonstrations and growing calls for his resignation, Thaksin dissolved the lower house of parliament and called for elections to be held on April 2. The three main opposition political parties boycotted the snap elections. The April 2 election and subsequent by-elections did not result in a full lower house. Election laws required candidates running unopposed to garner the votes of at least 20 percent of the electoral base in their constituency. TRT candidates running unopposed in at least 13 constituencies were unable to reach the 20 percent threshold. As such, the lower house was unable to convene an opening session or elect a new prime minister. On May 8, the Constitutional Court ruled that the April 2 election was unconstitutional.

The controversial April 2006 parliamentary election victory of the Thai Rak Thai Party was viewed by many as having been secured through a level of electoral fraud extraordinary in Thailand in modern times in both scope and brazenness, even by Thai standards. On July 6, 2006 the Attorney General petitioned the Constitutional Court to disband the Thai Rak Thai Party and two smaller parties for electoral fraud; the Court accepted the petition on July 13, 2006. A coup dtat during the pendency of the proceedings resulted on September 19, 2006 in the suspension of the 1997 Constitution.

The Tribunals extremely detailed adjudication clarified that the criminal activities were part of a coordinated enterprise involving scores or hundreds of persons, many state officials, from a low-ranking data-entry operator right up to cabinet members using state property to commit their crimes. A clear inference from the Tribunals explication of the evidence is that the plotters acted with impunity, never imagining that they would be called to account; this inference follows from their openly falsifying electoral records in official computers, using fully archived banking channels to transmit illegal payments rather than untraceable cash, and arranging payoffs right under the cameras at the Ministry of Defense. The Constitutional Tribunals Decision 3-5/2550 dated May 30, 2007 ordered dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party.

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