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Thailand - Politics 2006-2011

Before new elections could be held, in September 2006 a group of top military officers overthrew the caretaker Thaksin administration in a non-violent coup d’etat, repealed the 1997 constitution, and dissolved both houses of parliament. The coup leaders promulgated an interim constitution and appointed Surayud Chulanont as interim Prime Minister. In a national referendum in August 2007, a majority of Thai voters approved a new constitution drafted by an assembly appointed by the coup leaders. The interim government held multi-party elections under provisions of the new constitution in December 2007, and the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) won a plurality of 233 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. PPP leader Samak Sundaravej formed a coalition government and formally took office as Prime Minister in February 2008.

Anti-Thaksin “yellow-shirt” political protest group called the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) held large demonstrations against the government in 2008. Efforts by the two PPP leaders to amend the 2007 constitution and provide amnesty to banned politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, led to a renewal of street protests in mid-2008, some of which resulted in violence between security forces and protesters and between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. In late August 2008, PAD protestors occupied Government House, where the Prime Minister's Office is located; they held the compound for months.

The Constitutional Court disqualified Samak Sundaravej from premiership in August 2008 on the grounds that he had committed a conflict of interest by accepting money from a private company to appear on a TV program on cooking demonstration. Samak was forced from office in September 2008 by the Constitutional Court ruling. The verdict was a heavy blow to the pro-Thaksin government at that time and although the government survived with a new prime minister, its legitimacy eroded substantially since the government continued to be a nominee of Thaksin as the new premier was his brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat.

Anti-Thaksin “yellow-shirt” PAD protestors occupied Bangkok's civilian airports on November 25, 2008, impeding the facilities' functioning and departing only on December 3, 2008, following the collapse of the government headed by then-Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. During late 2008, there were occasional firearms discharges and explosions in the vicinity of the Government House compound and the airports, when they were under PAD occupation. The explosions seemed intended to injure PAD sympathizers. Several people died as a result, and dozens were injured.

Somchai Wongsawat, PPP leader and brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin, also was forced from office by the Constitutional Court when it dissolved the PPP and two other coalition parties on December 2, 2008 for election law violations in the December 2007 elections. A split among ex-PPP members of parliament paved the way for parliament’s election of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister on December 15, 2008.

Pro-Thaksin “Red-shirt” protests against the Abhisit government commenced in early 2009, leading to the disruption of a major Asian summit in Pattaya and riots in Bangkok in April 2009. The pro-Thaksin red shirt movement is a real challenge to the conservative core value of Thai society and the conservative establishment. Its core group was composed of politician loyal to Thaksin, former left leaning students leaders, republicanism advocates and some business leaders both national and local level.

The “red-shirts” continued to hold short demonstrations through 2009 and into 2010 and intensified their protests on March 12, 2010, 2 weeks after the Supreme Court directed the government to seize $1.4 billion of Thaksin’s assets. Between March and May 2010, antigovernment protesters affiliated with the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, or red shirts) established two separate protest sites, including the commercial center of Bangkok, while calling for the dissolution of parliament. The tense standoff between government security forces and protesters came to a head on 10 April 2010; 25 people were killed in street clashes, 5 of them security personnel.

Government efforts to negotiate a settlement with “red-shirt” leaders ultimately failed, and on May 14 troops began to seal off the protest site. A week of street battles ensued, climaxing on May 19 when “red-shirt” leaders surrendered to police. In the immediate aftermath several buildings, including Thailand’s largest shopping mall, were torched by elements of the “red-shirt” demonstrators. Protesters also set fire to government offices in several provinces. In total, 92 people were killed and over 1,800 injured during the 2-month protest. However, it remained unclear how many were killed by security forces, by armed factions associated with the protest, or by accident. Roughly half of the "red-shirt" leaders were arrested or surrendered, while others fled abroad. Many of those leaders later returned to Thailand to face legal charges. “Red-shirt” protests continued at regular intervals throughout the rest of 2010 and into the 2011 election season, though they remained nonviolent.

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