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Thailand - Politics - 2011-20xx

In July 2011, the Thaksin-affiliated Puea Thai Party (PTP) -- led by Thaksin’s youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra -- claimed a decisive electoral victory, obtaining 265 out of 500 parliamentary seats in general elections, while the Democrat Party (DP), the current ruling party, came in second at 159 seats. General elections in Thailand were held successfully on 3 July 2011. Voter turnout was at a record high of around 75 percent, the highest voter turnout in the history of Thailand’s general elections.

The 300-seat government will be a coalition, comprising six parties, namely Pheu Thai, Chartthaipattana (Thai National Development), Chart Pattana Puea Pandin (National Development), Palung Chon, Mahachon, and New Democracy. According to the results of the July 3 general election announced by the Election Commission of Thailand, the Pheu Thai Party won a majority of the 500-member House of Representatives, winning 265 seats, while the Democrat Party ranked second, gaining 159 seats. The Bhumjaithai Party came third, with 34 seats, followed by the Chaithaipattana Party, 19 seats; the Palung Chon Party, seven seats; the Chart Pattana Puea Pandin Party, seven seats; the Rak Prathet Thai (Rak Thailand) Party, four seats; the Matubhum Party, two seats; the Rak Santi Party, one seat; the Mahachon Party, one seat; and the New Democracy Party, one seat.

The voter turnout in the party-list election was 75 percent; invalid ballots came to 4.9 percent, and 2.7 percent of eligible voters did not vote for any party. As for the election under the single-member constituency basis, the voter turnout was 74.85 percent; 5.79 percent of the ballots were invalid, and 4 percent marked the “Vote No” box. The Election Commission stated that, should there be no complaints of poll fraud, it would certify the results of the two elections for all candidates by July 12.

Yingluck was endorsed as the Prime Minister on August 10, 2011. Many of Yingluck’s campaign promises echoed the populist platform of the Thaksin era -- crop subsidies for farmers, a minimum wage increase, tablet computers for schools. However, following devastating floods in the latter half of 2011 that claimed more than 600 lives and caused billions in economic damage, the Yingluck administration had to redirect resources to focus on recovery and notably pushed back the minimum wage implementation to April 2012.

Yingluck Shinawatra said the new government would press ahead with reconciliation as its first priority while the Truth for Reconciliation Commission chaired by Dr. Kanit Na Nakorn would continue its work. She also affirmed that Pheu Thai would not grant amnesty for any single person. Although Yingluck and her governing coalition enjoy a strong political mandate, political tensions persist. The most divisive issue relates to the potential return of former Prime Minister Thaksin, which the Puea Thai-led government raised as a possibility several times during the second half of 2011. On 10 January 2012, the Cabinet approved in principle the measures, mechanism and means for reparation and rehabilitation of those affected by the incidents of political violence as proposed by the Committee to Coordinate and Follow-up on Actions Taken to Implement the Recommendations of the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (ITRCT). The Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security have been assigned to administer the budget for reparation and rehabilitation measures.

A solution to the impasse might be based on amending the constitution, ensuring some accountability for gross violations of the law by both yellow-shirts and red-shirts, and a reconciliation / amnesty deal which would have to include Thaksin. This would need to include the return of some of Thaksin's frozen assets and Thaksin serving a nominal period, possibly as short as a few days, in jail. A deal with Thaksin was complicated because no one trusted Thaksin, who had further complicated matters with his incendiary rhetoric and by allowing his proxies to repeatedly impugn Privy Council Chair GEN Prem Tinsulanonda's character.

The first challenge lay in getting all the parties to the table. No deal seemed possible without the following actors breaking bread together at the same time: Thakin's cronies in the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), aka "the red-shirts," as well as the formal opposition Puea Thai Party; PM Abhisit's representatives and the Democrats; the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), aka "the yellow-shirts;" and representatives from the Privy Council. The Privy Council would appear to be the most problematic piece of this particular puzzle, as it has no appetite for talks. Secondly, any hypothetical deal would need to address Thakin's fugitive legal status and his confiscated assets. Given the tense atmospherics, it is hard to envision either side compromising on the question of jail time for Thaksin.

The Yingluck administration's first two years in office marked a period of stability for Thailand's occasionally raucous politics. But with mounting street protests and legal challenges, including corruption charges against the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers, there were signs that the country's politics are entering a new, more volatile phase. The government attempted to pass a blanket amnesty bill for everyone involved in Thailand's political conflicts of recent years. Thailand's Senate voted down the measure which many believed would have allowed former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who remained overseas to avoid a two year jail term for corruption, to return to Thailand a free man.

Political demonstrations in Thailand began in early November 2013. By late November 2013 Thailand faced growing political tensions as tens of thousands of anti-government protesters turned out in Bangkok, pressing the government to resign. Anti-government street rallies escalated as protestors marched to key government buildings, briefly occupying the finance ministry and targeting state enterprises, police and army and the ministry of interior. An estimated 100,000 people turned out to call for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government to resign. Protestors also called for an end to what critics see as the excessive influence of her brother, Mr. Thaksin. The protestors demanded the entire overhaul, uprooting of everything associated with Thaksin Shinawatra, which was an open ended, very difficult demands to meet.

Most protest activity has occurred in the Bangkok area, but on occasion there have been smaller demonstrations in other areas, including Chiang Mai. Although many protest activities have been peaceful, violent incidents involving guns and explosive devices have occurred at or near protest sites. Some have resulted in injury or death. In Bangkok, protests have been mobile throughout the city, with large numbers of demonstrators at times swelling quickly and closing major roads and intersections. The majority of the demonstrations have occurred in the vicinity of Thai government facilities and at major intersections including Lumpini Park, Sala Daeng, Asoke, Ratchaprasong, Pathumwan, and at the Government Center at Chaengwattana. In January 2014, protestors took control of these intersections, blocking most vehicular traffic, and occasionally redirecting pedestrian traffic. These sites drew large crowds, especially in evenings and on weekends. There was often reduced or no police presence at protest sites, where protest “guards” frequently controlled access.

Yingluck Shinawatra remained on as caretaker prime minister since dissolving parliament in December 2013. Thailand's main opposition Democrat Party announced 21 December 2013 it would boycott national elections in early February because it did not see how the vote could resolve the current political crisis. With more anti-government protests expected, analysts and Thai army leaders said the boycott announcement was an additional concern. Opposition Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva announced his party's withdrawal from the 02 February 2014 election. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had called for the vote in the hope of ending weeks of street protests against her government's policies and legislative agenda. The boycott by the Democrats, whose support base is in the southern provinces and central regions, follows a similar move in 2006 when Yingluck's older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, then Prime Minister, called a snap election in response to street protests about corruption. The election was later annulled by the courts.

On 22 January 2014, the Royal Thai Government commenced a 60-day state of emergency in Bangkok and several surrounding provinces. The emergency decree provides the government additional authorities to deal with security challenges, such as the ability to impose curfews, ban certain assemblies, detain suspects without charge, and restrict information. The government has signaled its intention to take legal measures against some non-Thai citizens who have participated in protest activities.

The Thai government held to the election schedule with voting on 02 February 2014, despite calls by protesters for broad political reforms before voting takes place. While early voting on 26 January 2014 in Thailand's general elections proceeded smoothly in the governing party's stronghold in the northern provinces, anti- government protesters disrupted most voting in Bangkok, raising tensions for the week ahead. In Bangkok, most affected by the protests, just five of 50 polling stations successfully opened. Voters braved intimidation and threats of violence to participate in nationwide elections on 02 February 2014.

Protesters forced elections to be canceled in nine of Thailand's 76 provinces and four of Bangkok's 50 districts, but most polling stations were able to open. After polls closed, Thailand's Election Commission on national television said 89% of the country's 93,000 polling stations were able to open. February 23rd was set as a new election date for eligible voters who could not cast their ballots during early voting on January 26th. Parliament needed 95 percent of seats to be filled in order to reach a quorum and elect a prime minister. Not enough seats could be filled to convene a new parliament to vote for a successor prime minister.

The United States warned 03 February 2014 against moves to stage a military coup in Thailand and said it was "concerned that political tensions" are challenging the Southeast Asian nation's democracy. "We certainly do not want to see a coup or violence... in any case of course. We are speaking directly to all elements in Thai society to make clear the importance of using democratic and constitutional means to resolve political differences," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said after disrupted weekend elections. While there was "peaceful and orderly polling" in most areas on Sunday "but there were also disturbing incidents of violence on the eve of the election," as well as efforts to block voters getting to the polls, she said. "We remain concerned that political tensions in Thailand are posing challenges to the democratic institutions and processes of Thailand," Psaki told reporters. "We certainly don't take sides, as you know, in Thailand's political disputes, but we continue to urge all sides to commit to sincere dialogue to resolve political differences peacefully and democratically."

While the King had not intervened in the country’s current deadlock, he did endorse the military coup that unseated Thaksin in 2006. Since then, anti-Thaksin rallies have been defined by protesters’ yellow shirts and other royal imagery. But in the current standoff, protesters are wearing less yellow and seem to be avoiding large displays of the monarchy. Legal challenges lodged by the government’s opponents could break the impasse by unseating the caretaker government and politically crippling the ruling Pheu Thai party, which is backed by controversial former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thai courts ruled against Thaksin-allied parties in 2006 and 2008, driving them from power until they won elections to return. Another court decision against a Thaksin-allied party could lead to a backlash.

Thailand's ruling Pheu Thai party sought to dissolve the opposition Democrat Party, meaning both sides of the country's tense political standoff were now trying to legally do away with one another. Pheu Thai sent a complaint to the Election Commission February 05, 2014 , arguing the Democrats tried to overthrow the government by supporting protests that disrupted the election.

People’s Democratic Reform Committee protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, along with former prime minister Abhisit Vejijajiva, faces indictment for murder charges stemming from the 2010 crackdown on "redshirts," who form the core of support for the current government. Suthep was deputy prime minister at the time and oversaw a special security force, implicated in the deaths of more than 90 people during street violence.

Until recently, Yingluck and Thaksin could depend on the critical support of the "red shirts," who mainly stayed on the sidelines in the northern countryside during the recent upheaval. But their enthusiasm for the billionaire brother and his sister waned after the government bungled a rice-pledging scheme, which paid farmers in one of the world's top exporters of rice nearly double market rates. The majority of farmers had not been paid for their crops under the plan that started in October 2011. In the abence of Parliament, the country's caretaker government does not have the power to renew the program which expires at the end of February. The National Anti-Corruption Commission contends Ms. Yingluck was aware of corruption involving the rice scheme that left it short of funds but failed to stop it.

On 21 March 2014 Thailand's Constitutional Court nullified the February 2 poll by a 6-3 vote, citing a failure by the election authorities to complete the ballot as required by the constitution. While the ruling could be another setback for a government, there is pressure on the opposition to take part in the next election after boycotting the last one. While street protests in Bangkok have calmed down since tens of thousands of protesters blocked major thoroughfares for months, sporadic violence continues. More than 20 people had died in political violence since November 2013.

Thailand's senate election was held relatively peacefully on 30 March 2014, without the attempts to block voting that marred last month's general election. The turnout was low, about 50 per cent, Election Commission officials said. Unlike the February 2 general election, which was disrupted by protesters blocking voting and the delivery of ballots to booths, the election for 77 senators, one for each Thai province, was carried out without interruptions. Thailand's 150-seat Senate is made up of 77 elected senators. The other 73 are appointed and are largely seen as opponents of the government. An early analysis by the Nation Multimedia Group showed the government and coalition partners winning more than 50 percent of the 77 contested seats. Because of the incomplete nature of the February 2 polls, the Constitutional Court ruled to annul it on March 21, meaning that Thailand will need to hold a new general election soon.

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her country's Election Commission agreed to hold a new vote July 20. It is unclear whether the country's opposition, which is involved in a prolonged standoff with Ms. Yingluck, will participate in the general election.

Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled 07 May 2014 that the country's caretaker prime minister and some of her Cabinet must step down for abuse of power. The Constitutional Court ruled Yingluck Shinawatra and members of her Cabinet abused their authority when they transferred a national security council official, which paved the way for her relative to become the national police chief. This was the third time Thailand’s courts had removed a prime minister since 2006. All three represented parties backed by Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s elder brother, who remained the main backer of the Pheu Thai party. The Shinawatra family political infrastructure had won every general election since 2001.

With his willingness to compromise and public relations skills, Thailand's new caretaker prime minister, Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan, may be what is needed to take the heat out of a political crisis that is close to boiling point. Niwatthamrong, 66, will hold the fort until elections tentatively slated for 20 July 2014.

Thailand’s anti-corruption commission said 08 May 2014 it found grounds for Yingluck Shinawatra’s impeachment, holding her responsible for a bungled rice-pledging program that paid farmers a fixed price for their crops. Her case now goes to the Senate. If impeached, Yingluck would be barred from politics for five years. But she may have enough support in the Senate to prevent the chamber from mustering the three-fifths needed for impeachment.

Thailand's election commission said on 28 March 2016 it expected 80 percent of eligible voters to turn out for an 07 August 2016 referendum on a controversial constitution that critics vowed to boycott. Thailand’s major political party, the Pheu Thai Party, ousted from power in 2014, opposed the draft charter and called for voters to reject it at the August 2016 referendum. Several Pheu Thai Party members had been detained by the military for short periods for so-called “attitude-adjustment” talks, with the government planning to set up additional camps for further detentions.

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