Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin Shinawatra
ทักษิณ ชินวัตร

23rd Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
9 February 2001 – 19 September 2006
Monarch Rama IX
Preceded by Chuan Leekpai
Succeeded by Surayud Chulanont

Special Economic Adviser to Cambodia
In office
4 November 2009 – 23 August 2010
Monarch Norodom Sihamoni
Prime Minister Hun Sen

Born 26 July 1949 (1949-07-26) (age 61)
San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Nationality Thai
Political party Thai Rak Thai (formerly)[1]
Spouse(s) Potjaman Shinawatra (1980–2008)[2]
Profession Businessman
Religion Buddhism

Thaksin Shinawatra (Thai: ทักษิณ ชินวัตร, pronounced [tʰáksǐn tɕʰinnawát]  ( listen); Chinese: 丘達新; born 26 July 1949) is a Thai billionaire politician and businessman who was Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001 to 2006, when he was deposed in a military coup.

In 2008, Thaksin was found guilty in a Thai court of corruption and sentenced in absentia to two years imprisonment. As of today, he has not served the sentence and remains a fugitive. Thaksin briefly owned Manchester City Football Club from 2007 to 2008. Following a prolonged series of violent political protests in Bangkok from March to May 2010, in which 88 people died, Thai court issued a warrant for the arrest of Thaksin on terrorism charges.

Thaksin entered politics in 1994 under Phalang Dharma Party, left the party with many of its MPs in 1996, in effect eviscerating it, and founded the populist Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in 1998. After a historic election victory in 2001, he became prime minister, the country's first to serve a full term.[3] Thaksin introduced a range of partly effective policies to alleviate rural poverty; highly popular, they helped reduce poverty by half in four years.[4][5] He launched the country's first universal healthcare program,[6] the 30-baht scheme, as well as a severely human-rights violating but also highly popular drug suppression campaign.[7] After his purchases of MPs from other political parties, most notably the New Aspiration Party founded by Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, his Thai Rak Thai party won an unprecedented landslide in the 2005 general election, which had the highest voter turnout in Thai history.[8][9][10]

However, the Shinawatra government also faced allegations of electoral fraud, corruption, authoritarianism, treason, conflicts of interest, acting non-diplomatically, and muzzling of the press.[11] Thaksin was accused of tax evasion, lèse majesté (insulting the dignity of a reigning sovereign) and selling national assets to international investors.[12][13] Independent bodies, including Amnesty International, criticized Thaksin's human rights record.

Protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy occurred in 2006, and on 19 September 2006 a military junta which later called itself the Council for National Security overthrew Thaksin's government in a coup while he was abroad. A CNS-appointed constitutional tribunal dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party for electoral fraud ex post facto, banning him and TRT's executives from politics for five years.[14] The CNS-appointed Assets Examination Committee froze Thaksin and his family's assets in Thailand, totaling 76 billion baht ($2.2 billion), claiming he had become unusually wealthy while in office.[15][16] Thaksin and his wife had declared assets totaling 15.1 billion baht when he took office in 2001, although he had transferred many of his assets to his children and associates before taking office.[17]

Thaksin returned to Thailand on 28 February 2008, after the People's Power Party, which he supported, won the post-coup elections.[18] But after visiting Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, he did not return to hear the final supreme court sentence and applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. This was not accepted so he had to move about from one country to another. In October, the Supreme Court found him guilty of a conflict of interest and sentenced him in absentia to two years in jail.[19]

The People's Power Party was later banned by the Supreme Court, but party members regrouped to form the Pheu Thai Party, which Thaksin also supported. Thaksin has also been a supporter, and alleged bankroller, of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (the "Red Shirts").[20][21] The Government revoked Thaksin's passport for his role in the UDD's protests during Songkran 2009.[22][23][24] In 26 February 2010, the Supreme Court seized 46 billion baht of his frozen assets, after finding him guilty of abnormal wealth. In 2009 it was announced that Thaksin had obtained Montenegrin citizenship.[25][26][27]


Early life

Thaksin was born in San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai province. He lived in the village of San Kamphaeng until he was 15, then moved to Chiang Mai city to study at Montfort College. At 16, he helped run one of his father's cinemas.[28]

Thaksin's great-great-grandfather Seng Sae Khu was a Hakka Chinese immigrant from Meizhou, Guangdong who arrived in Siam in the 1860s and settled in Chiang Mai in 1908. His eldest son, Chiang Sae Khu, was born in 1890 and married a Thai woman, Saeng Somna. Chiang's eldest son, Sak, adopted the Thai surname Shinawatra ("does good routinely") in 1938, and the rest of the family followed suit.

Thaksin's father, Lert, was born in Chiang Mai in 1919 and married Yindi Ramingwong (a daughter of Princess Jantip Na Chiang Mai). In 1968, Lert Shinawatra entered politics and became an MP for Chiang Mai.

Seng Sae Khu made his fortune through tax farming. The Khu/Shinawatra family later founded Shinawatra Silks and then moved into finance, construction and property development. Lert Shinawatra opened a coffee shop and several businesses, and grew oranges and flowers in Chiang Mai's San Kamphaeng district. By the time Thaksin was born, the extended Shinawatra family was one of the richest and most influential in Chiang Mai.

Thaksin married Potjaman Damapong in 1980. They have one son, Panthongtae and two daughters, Pintongtha and Peathongtarn. They divorced in 2008.[29]

Police career

Thaksin Shinawatra was a member of the 10th class of the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School,[30] and was then admitted to the Thai Police Cadet Academy. Upon graduation in 1973, he joined the Royal Thai Police Department. He received a master's degree in Criminal Justice from Eastern Kentucky University in the United States in 1975, and three years later was awarded a doctorate in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas. Returning to Thailand, he reached the position of Deputy Superintendent of the Policy and Planning Sub-division, General Staff Division, Metropolitan Police Bureau, before resigning in 1987 as a lieutenant colonel. His wife, Potjaman Damapong, is the daughter of a police general.[31]

Business career

Early ventures

Thaksin and his wife began several businesses while he was still in the police, including a silk shop, a movie theater, and an apartment building. All were failures and left him over 50 million baht in debt. In 1982 he established ICSI; using his police contacts, he leased computers to government agencies with modest success. However, later ventures in security systems (SOS) and public bus radio services (Bus Sound) all failed.[32][33] In April 1986, he founded Advanced Info Service (AIS), which started off as a computer rental business.[34]

In 1987 Thaksin resigned from the police. He then marketed a romance drama called "Baan Sai Thong", which became a popular success in theaters.[35][36] In 1988 he joined Pacific Telesis to operate and market the PacLink pager service, a modest success, though Thaksin later sold his shares to establish his own paging company.[32][37] In 1989 he launched IBC, a cable television company, which lost money and eventually merged with the CP Group's UTV.[32][38] In 1989, Thaksin established a data networking service, Shinawatra DataCom,[32] today known as Advanced Data Network and owned by AIS and the TOT.[39] Many of Thaksin's businesses were later consolidated as Shin Corp.

Advance Info Service and later ventures

Founded in April 1986, Advanced Info Service (AIS) started off as a computer rental business.[34] In October 1990, it launched analog 900 MHz mobile phone services with a 20 year monopoly concession from the Telephone Organization of Thailand, and later became the first company allowed to operate on the GSM 900 frequency.[40] The mobile phone boom in Thailand was just beginning, with Total Access Communications receiving a concession a month later for the GSM 1800 frequency.[41] AIS grew rapidly and was listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand in November 1991. It established a GSM network in 1994 and eventually became the largest mobile phone operator in Thailand.[42]

The Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group was founded in 1987 and listed in 1990.

In 1990, Thaksin founded Shinawatra Satellite, which has developed and operated four Thaicom communications satellites.

In 1999, the Shinawatra family spent some 1 billion baht establishing Shinawatra University in Pathum Thani. It offered international programs in engineering, architecture, and business management.

In 2000, Thaksin acquired the ailing iTV television station from the Crown Property Bureau, Nation Multimedia Group, and Siam Commercial Bank.[43][44]

Entry into politics

Political debut

Thaksin entered politics in late 1994 through Chamlong Srimuang, who had just reclaimed the position of Palang Dharma Party (PDP) leader from Boonchu Rojanastien. In a subsequent purge of Boonchu-affiliated PDP Cabinet ministers, Thaksin was appointed Foreign Minister in December 1994, replacing Prasong Soonsiri.[45] Twelve years later, after Thaksin was removed from power, Chamlong Srimuang expressed regret at getting "such a corrupt person" into politics. The PDP soon withdrew from the government over the Sor Por Kor 4-01 land reform corruption scandal, causing the government of Chuan Leekpai to collapse.

PDP leader and Deputy Prime Minister under Banharn

Chamlong, strongly criticized for mishandling internal PDP politics in the last days of the Chuan-government, retired from politics and hand-picked Thaksin as new PDP leader. Thaksin ran for election for the first time for the constitutional tribunal and lost.

Thaksin joined the government of Banharn Silpa-Archa and was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Bangkok traffic. In May 1996, he and four other PDP ministers quit the Banharn Cabinet (while retaining their MP seats), prompting a Cabinet reshuffle. Many have claimed that Thaksin's move was designed to help give Chamlong Srimuang a boost in the June 1996 Bangkok Governor elections, which Chamlong returned from retirement to contest.[46] But Chamlong lost to Bhichit Rattakul, an independent.

Chamlong's failure to buttress the PDP's failing power base in Bangkok amplified divisions in the PDP, particularly between Chamlong's "temple" faction and Thaksin's. Soon afterwards, Chamlong announced he was retiring again from politics.

Thaksin and the PDP pulled out of the Banharn-government in August 1996. In a subsequent no-confidence debate, the PDP gave evidence against the Banharn government, and in September 1996 Banharn dissolved Parliament.

Thaksin announced he would not run in the subsequent November 1996 elections but would remain as leader of the PDP. It suffered a fatal defeat in the elections, winning only one seat, and soon imploded, with most members resigning.

Deputy Prime Minister under Chavalit

On 15 August 1997, Thaksin became Deputy Prime Minister in Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's government, after the Thai baht was floated and devalued on 2 July 1997, sparking the Asian Financial Crisis. He held the position for only three months, leaving on 14 November when Chavalit resigned.

During a censure debate on 27 September 1997, Democrat Suthep Thaugsuban accused Thaksin of profiting from insider information about the government's decision to float the baht,[47] but the next Democrat party-led government did not investigate the accusations.

During this period, Thaksin also served on the Asia Advisory Board of the Washington D.C. based Carlyle Group until he resigned upon becoming Prime Minister in 2001.[48]

The Thai Rak Thai Party and the 2001 elections

Thaksin founded the Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais" – TRT) party in 1998 along with Somkid Jatusripitak, PDP ally Sudarat Keyuraphan, Purachai Piumsombun,[49] and 19 others.

With a populist platform often attributed to Somkid, TRT promised universal access to healthcare, a 3-year debt moratorium for farmers, and 1 million THB locally managed development funds for all Thai villages.

After Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai dissolved parliament in November 2000, TRT won a sweeping victory in the January 2001 elections, the first held under the Constitution of 1997. At the time, some academics called it the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history.[50] Thai Rak Thai won 248 parliamentary seats (more than any other party previously) and needed only 3 more seats to form a government. Nonetheless, Thaksin opted for a broad coalition to gain total control and avoid a vote of no confidence, with the Chart Thai Party (41 seats) and the New Aspiration Party (36 seats), while absorbing the smaller Seritham Party (14 seats).[51]

Prime Minister of Thailand

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai on 19 September 2005

Thaksin Shinawatra was the first prime minister of Thailand to complete a full term in office, and his rule is generally agreed to have been one of the most distinctive in the country's modern history.[52] He initiated many eye-catching policies that distinguished him from his predecessors[53]. They affected the economy, public health, education, energy, social order, drug suppression and international relations. He gained two re-election victories.[54]

Thaksin's most effective policies were reducing rural poverty[4] and the introduction of universal healthcare, allowing him to galvanise the vast and largely untapped support base of the rural poor, especially in the populous northeast.[54]

His Cabinet consisted of a broad coalition of academics, former student leaders, and former leaders of the Phalang Dharma party, including Prommin Lertsuridej, Chaturon Chaisang, Prapat Panyachatraksa, Surapong Suebwonglee, Somkid Jatusripitak, Surakiart Sathirathai, and Sudarat Keyuraphan. Traditional regional power brokers also flocked to his government.

However, his government was increasingly accused of dictatorship, demagogy, corruption, conflicts of interest, human rights offences, acting undiplomatically, using legal loopholes and displaying hostility towards a free press. A highly controversial leader, he has also been the target of numerous allegations of lèse-majesté, treason, usurping religious and royal authority, selling assets to international investors, and religious desecration.[12][13]

Economic policies

Thaksin's government designed its policies to appeal to the rural majority, initiating programs like village-managed microcredit development funds, low-interest agricultural loans, direct injections of cash into village development funds (the SML scheme), infrastructure development, and the One Tambon One Product (OTOP) rural small and medium enterprise development program.

Thaksinomics, Thaksin's economic policies, helped accelerate Thailand's economic recovery from the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and substantially reduce poverty. GDP grew from 4.9 trillion baht at the end of 2001 to 7.1 trillion baht at the end of 2006. Thailand repaid its debts to the International Monetary Fund two years ahead of schedule.

Income in the Northeast, the poorest part of the country, had been stagnant from 1995 to 2000 but rose dramatically by 46% from 2001 to 2006.[55] Nationwide poverty fell by half, from 21.3% to 11.3%, during the Thaksin years.[4] Thailand's Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, fell from .525 in 2000 to .499 in 2004 (it had risen from 1996 to 2000).[56] The Stock Exchange of Thailand outperformed other markets in the region. After facing fiscal deficits in 2001 and 2002, Thaksin balanced the national budget, producing comfortable fiscal surpluses for 2003 to 2005. Despite a massive program of infrastructure investments, a balanced budget was projected for 2007.[57] Public sector debt fell from 57 per cent of GDP in January 2001 to 41 per cent in September 2006.[58][59] Foreign exchange reserves doubled from US$30 billion in 2001 to US$64 billion in 2006.[60]

Critics say Thaksinomics is little more than a Keynesian-style economic stimulus policy re-branded. Economists from the Thailand Development Research Institute argue that other factors, such as a revival in export demand, were the primary cause behind the economy's recovery.[61] Others claimed that the policies got the rural poor "hooked on Thaksin's hand-outs."[62]

Thaksin helped bring part of Thailand's massive underground lottery system into the legal fold by operating a successful numbers game (Thai: หวย) run by the Government Lottery Office. Lottery sales of approx. 70 billion THB (2 billion USD) were used for social projects, including the "One District, One Scholarship" program. The Thaksin government also privatized MCOT, a large television and radio broadcaster.[63]

After the 2006 coup, many of Thaksin's economic policies were ended, the OTOP program was rebranded, the Government Lottery Office's program was deemed illegal, and the government nationalized several media outlets and energy companies.

Healthcare policies

Thaksin initiated two key healthcare policies: subsidized universal health care and low-cost universal access to anti-retroviral HIV medication (ARVs). Thaksin's 30-baht/visit universal healthcare program won the applause of the general public, but was criticized by many doctors and officials.[64][65] Prior to the program's introduction, a large portion of the population had no health insurance and only limited access to healthcare. The program helped increase access to healthcare from 76% of the population to 96%.[66] The program also increased workloads for health care employees, and caused many doctors to change to higher paying careers. It has also been criticized for being underfunded by the government. The program caused some hospitals to seek alternative sources of income, leading to a boom in medical tourism, with 1.3 million foreign patients earning Thailand 33 billion THB (approx. 800 million USD) in 2005.[67][68]

Post-coup Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla called the 30-baht program a "marketing gimmick" and claimed that the government would "very soon" stop charging patients any fees for visits to state hospitals.[69]

During the Thaksin government, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS as well as the overall prevalence rate noticeably declined.[70] Although successful in expanding access to HIV medication, there have been concerns that a free trade agreement with the US could endanger Thailand's ability to produce generic HIV treatments.[71]

Thaksin allowed the estimated 2.3 million migrant workers in Thailand to register and seek health coverage under the Thai national healthcare system. They were also eligible for work permits at the end of the registration period, entitling them to full labor protection. Democrat Party Labour Group Committee Pongsak Plengsaeng criticized the move, claiming that it would lead to unemployment amongst Thais.

The 'war on drugs'

Thaksin initiated several highly controversial policies to counter a perceived boom in the Thai drug market, particularly in methamphetamine. After earlier policies like border blocking (most methamphetamine is produced in Myanmar), education, sports, and promoting peer pressure proved ineffective, Thaksin on 14 January 2003 launched a campaign to rid "every square inch of the country" of drugs in three months.[72] It consisted of changing the punishment policy for drug addicts, setting provincial arrest and seizure targets including "blacklists", awarding government officials for achieving targets and threatening punishment for those who failed to make the quota, targeting dealers, and "ruthless" implementation.

In the first three months, Human Rights Watch reports that 2,275 people were killed.[73] The government claimed that only around 50 of the deaths were at the hands of the police. Human rights critics say a large number were extrajudicially executed.[74][75] The government went out of its way to publicize the campaign, through daily announcements of arrest, seizure, and death statistics.

According to the Narcotics Control Board, the policy was effective in reducing drug consumption, especially in schools, by increasing the market price.[76]

King Bhumibol, in an equivocal 2003 birthday speech, appeared to support the war on drugs, although he did ask the commander of the police to investigate the killings.[77] Police Commander Sant Sarutanond reopened investigations into the deaths, and again claimed that few of the deaths were at the hands of the police.

The war on drugs was widely criticized by the international community. Thaksin requested that the UN Commission on Human Rights send a special envoy to evaluate the situation, but said in an interview, "The United Nations is not my father. I am not worried about any UN visit to Thailand on this issue."[78]

After the 2006 coup, the military junta ordered another investigation into the anti-drug campaign.[79] The committee concluded that as many as 1400 of the 2500 killed had no link to drugs. However, while giving the opinion that orders to kill came from the top, the panel failed to establish sufficient evidence to charge Thaksin or anybody in the Cabinet or police force with the murders.[80]

Education policies

Shinawatra in a meeting with the President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, in 2004

Thaksin implemented major educational reforms, chief among them school decentralization, as mandated by the 1997 Constitution.[81] It was to delegate school management from the over-centralized and bureaucratized Ministry of Education to Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAOs) but met with massive widespread opposition from Thailand's 700,000 teachers, who would be deprived of their status as civil servants. There were also fears among teachers that TAOs lacked the ability to manage schools. In the face of massive teacher protests and several threats of school closure, Thaksin compromised and gave teachers whose schools were transferred to TAO management two years to transfer to other schools.[82]

Others included learning reform and related curricular decentralization, mostly through greater use of holistic education and less use of rote learning.[83]

To increase access to universities for lower income people, Thaksin initiated the Student Loan Fund (SLF) and Income Contingency Loan (ICL) programs. The ICL granted loans regardless of financial status, and required recipients to start repayments when their salaries reached 16,000 baht a month, with interest equivalent to inflation from the day the loan was granted. The SLF had an eligibility limit on family income but interest was 1 per cent starting a year after graduation. The programs were merged and the income limit modified after Thaksin's government was overthrown.[84]

Thaksin also initiated the controversial "One District, One Dream School" project, aimed at developing the quality of schools to ensure that every district had at least one high-quality school. It was criticized, with claims that the only beneficiaries were Thaksin and companies selling computers and educational equipment. Many schools also fell deeply into debt in implementing the project, receiving inadequate financial support from the central government.[85][86]

In addition, he altered the state university entrance system, which had relied exclusively on a nationally standardized exams. Thaksin pushed for greater weighting of senior high-school grades in the hope of focusing students on classroom learning rather than private entrance exam tutoring.

He initiated the Income Contingency Loan program to increase access to higher education, whereby needy students could secure a loan to support their studies from vocational to university levels. Thai banks had traditionally not given education loans. He made Thailand one of the first supporters of Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, with the Thai Ministry of Education committing to purchase 600,000 units.[87] The junta later cancelled the project.

Energy policies

In energy policy, the Thaksin government continued the Chuan Leekpai government's privatization agenda, but with important changes. Whereas the Chuan government's post-Asian financial crisis policies sought economic efficiency through industry fragmentation and wholesale power pool competition,[88] Thaksin's policies aimed to create national champions that could reliably support stronger economic growth and become important players in regional energy markets.[89] Thaksin also initiated a policy to encourage renewable energy and energy conservation. Many Thaksin-era energy policies were reversed following the 2006 coup.

South Thailand insurgency

A resurgence in violence began in 2001 in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand with their Muslim, ethnic Malay majority. There is much controversy about the causes of this escalation. Attacks after 2001 concentrated on police, the military, and schools, but civilians (including Buddhist monks) are also regular targets. Thaksin was widely criticized for his management of the situation.

Of three key controversial incidents, the first was the Army's storming of the Krue Se Mosque, where protesters had holed up and were killed.[90]

The second, in October 2004, was the killing of 84 Muslim demonstrators at Tak Bai, when the Army broke up a peaceful protest.[91] Hundreds of detainees were forced at gunpoint to lie shackled and prone in Army trucks, stacked like cordwood. The trucks were delayed from moving to the detainment area for hours. The 84 victims were asphyxiated, crushed or died of overheating.

In a third incident, Muslim lawyer Somchai Neelapaijit disappeared, allegedly abducted and killed by police for his role in defending alleged insurgents who claimed to have been tortured.

Thaksin announced an escalation of military and police activity in the region.[92] In July 2005, Thaksin enacted an Emergency Decree to manage the three troubled provinces. Several human rights organizations expressed their concerns that the decree might be used to violate civil liberties.[93]

In March 2005, Thaksin established the National Reconciliation Commission, chaired by former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun to oversee efforts to bring peace to the troubled South. In its final report in June 2006, the commission proposed introducing elements of Islamic law and making Pattani-Malay (Yawi) an official language in the region. The Thaksin administration assigned a government committee to study the report, but nothing came of it.[94]

Administrative reform

One of the most visible of Thaksin's administrative reforms was the restructuring of government department and ministries, labeled the "big bang." It was hailed as a "historic breakthrough" and "the first major reorganization of ministries since King Chulalongkorn set up Thailand's modern system of departmental government in 1897." Plans had been studied for years to loosen perceived rigidities and inertia of the old system but were not implemented until the Thaksin government.[95]

The restructuring was designed to streamline the bureaucracy and focus it on performance and results. New ministries were carved out in Social and Human Security Development, Tourism and Sports, Natural Resources and Environment, Information and Communication Technology, and Culture.

Thaksin transformed the role of provincial governors to that of active policy managers. Historically, central government ministries operated in the provinces through field offices headed by senior officials who reported back to Bangkok, while the Interior Ministry appointed provincial governors whose role was largely ceremonial.

A key component of Thaksin's administrative reform policy, the "CEO-governors" epitomized what was called his "transformation of the operating style of the traditional bureaucracy into a more results-oriented instrument that would be responsive." Piloted in 2001 and introduced in all provinces in October 2003, CEO-governors were put in charge of planning and coordinating provincial development and became accountable for overall provincial affairs. The "CEO governors" were assisted by "provincial CFOs" from the Ministry of Finance who reported directly to each governor. Governors were authorized to raise funds by issuing bonds and were given an intensive training course.[96] After the coup, the junta reverted the role of governors.

The Thaksin era also saw the opening of a number of government one-stop service centers to reduce red tape for anything from investment to utilities and ID-card processing.

Foreign policies

Shinawatra with then President of Russia Vladimir Putin at APEC Bangkok 2003 on 21 October 2003 in Bangkok

Thaksin initiated negotiations for several free trade agreements with China, Australia, Bahrain, India, and the US. The latter especially was criticized, with claims that high-cost Thai industries could be wiped out.[97]

Thailand joined the US-led invasion of Iraq, sending a 423-strong humanitarian contingent. It withdrew its troops on 10 September 2004. Two Thai soldiers died in Iraq in an insurgent attack.

Thaksin announced that Thailand would forsake foreign aid, and work with donor countries to assist in the development of neighbors in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.[98]

Thaksin was repeatedly attacked for acting undiplomatically with foreign leaders and the international community. Besides his famous swipe at the UN (see The 'war on drugs' above), there were also allegations of gaffes at international meetings.[99]

Thaksin was ambitious to position Thailand as a regional leader, initiating various development projects in poorer neighbouring countries like Laos. More controversially, he established close, friendly ties with the Burmese dictatorship, including extending the impoverished country a 4 billion baht credit line so it could conclude a satellite telecom deal with his family business.[100]

Thaksin energetically supported his former foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai's somewhat improbable campaign to become UN Secretary General.

Suvarnabhumi Airport

After more than 30 years of planning and debate, the Thaksin government completed the construction of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. The airport was officially opened a week after the government was overthrown. It is one of the world's largest airports.

Some members of Thaksin's government were accused of corruption in the Suvarnabhumi Airport project. Corruption allegations were used by the military junta to justify the 2006 coup.[101] The junta initiated several investigations into the airport. However investigative panels found that damage to the airport was "minute" and "common." The cost of fixing the damage was estimated at less than 1% of the total airline cost. The junta was accused of delaying airport repairs and intensifying the airport's problems in order to pin further blame on the Thaksin government.


'Policy corruption'

Thaksin was accused of "policy corruption," such as infrastructure and liberalization policies that, while legal and a potential benefit to society, also aided companies that were owned by his family members.[102] Supannee Chai-amporn and Sirinthip Arun-rue of the National Institute of Development Administration claimed that policy corruption caused the state to spend nearly 30 per cent more than it otherwise should have spent, costing the state an additional 400 billion baht. Other examples cited were the Board of Investment granting tax breaks worth a total of Bt16.4 billion to Shin Satellite for its iPSTAR project in 2003, and the Transport Ministry's decision the same year to abolish the minimum air fare of Bt3.8 /km when Shin Corp was about to enter into a joint venture with low-cost carrier AirAsia to open a Thai subsidiary.[103]

After the 2006 coup, the military junta-appointed Assets Examination Committee froze Thaksin's assets based on charges of policy corruption.[104]

Thaksin denied the allegations. "They just made up a beautiful term to use against me. There's no such thing in this government. Our policies only serve the interests of the majority of the people," he said.[104] From 2002 to 2006, the stock price of Shin Corp increased from 38 to 104 baht (an increase of 173 per cent) while the stock price of Shin Satellite fell. In the same period, the Stock Exchange of Thailand index rose 161 per cent, and the price of other major SET blue chip companies increased vastly more. Industry deregulation caused the market share of AIS to fall from 68 per cent to 53 per cent.[104]


Transparency International reported that Thailand's reputation for transparency among business executives improved during the years of the Thaksin government. In 2001, Thailand's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was 3.2 (ranked 61), whereas in 2005, the CPI was 3.8 (ranked 59).[105][106][107] However, a study of Worldwide Governance Indicators by the World Bank gave a lower score on Control of Corruption during 2002–2005 to Thaksin's government compared to 1998–2000.[108] It should be noted that Thaksin resisted efforts by the International Monetary Fund to control Thai government policies, in direct contravention of World Bank advices; accordingly, the World Bank may not be considered an objective observer of the Thaksin regime.

After the 2006 military coup, Thaksin was convicted of allowing a conflict of interest, by allowing his wife to purchase a piece of property from the Financial Institutions Development Fund. Other cases are pending.

There were complaints that Thaksin-appointed relatives to senior positions in the civil service and independent commissions, for example by elevating his cousin, General Chaiyasit Shinawatra, to Army commander-in-chief. Chaiyasit was replaced after only one year due to his inability to control the southern Thai insurrection.

Former Thai ambassador to the UN Asda Jayanama, in an anti-Thaksin rally, claimed that Thaksin's two state visits to India were made in order to negotiate a satellite deal for Shin Corporation.

Other charges

Immediately after the events in March 2010, Abhisit Vejjajivas stated that he would talk to the red shirt leadership, but not to Thaksin. He criticised Thaksin’s wealth and extravagance, carving a contrast between the alleged opulence of the premier’s house and the humbler, agrarian roots of many of the demonstrators. Shortly after, he also directly condemned his opponent’s self-proclaimed affinity with the ordinary people, the ‘phrai’, arguing that Thaksin was far closer to the ‘ammart’, or the traditional elites in Thailand’s army, bureaucracy, and political parties.[109]

Thaksin's government was accused of exerting political influence in its crackdown on unlicensed community radio stations, and Thaksin brought massive defamation suits against critical journalists.[110][111]

Thaksin was also accused of interference when the Senate appointed Wisut Montriwat (former Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance) to the position of Auditor General, replacing Jaruvan Maintaka.

Thaksin has been engaged in a series of lawsuits brought by American businessman William L. Monson regarding Thaksin's takeover of a cable-television joint venture the two partnered in during the 1980s.

Political crisis of 2005–2006

2005 re-election

Under the slogans "Four Years of Repair – Four years of Reconstruction" and "Building Opportunities", Thaksin and the TRT won landslide victories in the February 2005 elections, sweeping 374 out of 500 seats in Parliament. The election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history. But his second term was soon beset by protests, with claims that he presided over a "parliamentary dictatorship."[112]

Accusations by Sondhi Limthongkul

The political crisis was catalyzed by several accusations published by media mogul and popular talk show host Sondhi Limthongkul, a former Thaksin supporter who had broken with him. These included accusations that Thaksin:

Sale of Shin Corporation

On 23 January 2006, the Shinawatra family sold their entire stake in Shin Corporation to Temasek Holdings. The Shinawatra and Damapong families netted about 73 billion baht (about US$1.88 billion) tax-free from the sale, using a regulation that made individuals who sell shares on the stock exchange exempt from capital gains tax.[113] The deal made Thaksin the target of accusations of corruption and selling an asset of national importance to a foreign entity.

Anti-Thaksin rallies

Thaksin faced pressure to resign following the Shin Corp. sale.

Protests, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) whose leaders included Chamlong and Sondhi, soon swelled to tens of thousands who occupied the area around Government House in Bangkok.[114] They consisted of both working-class and middle-class Bangkokians and included prominent social figures, academics and students.

House dissolution and election

Thaksin announced a House dissolution on 24 February 2006. General elections were scheduled for 2 April.

Thaksin was attacked for calling the snap elections, which in effect prevented any member of parliament from changing parties. In an editorial, The Nation noted it "fails to take into consideration a major fallacy of the concept [of democracy], particularly in a less-developed democracy like ours, in which the impoverished, poorly informed masses are easily manipulated by people of his ilk. And Thaksin's manipulation has been well documented."[115]

Election results and by-elections

Thaksin's TRT Party won the widely boycotted elections, gaining 462 seats in Parliament, with the ratio of voters to no-voters 16:10, not counting non-voters.[116]

However, by-elections were needed for 40 TRT candidates who failed to win the minimum 20% required by the 1997 Constitution in an uncontested seat.[117][118] The Democrat Party refused to contest them[117] and, along with the PAD, petitioned the Central Administrative Court to cancel them.[119] Chamlong Srimuang declared that the PAD would ignore the elections and "go on rallying until Thaksin resigns and Thailand gets a royally appointed prime minister".[120]

They were held on 25 April and resulted in the TRT winning 25 of the constituencies and losing 2. Yet another round of by-elections on 29 April was scheduled for 13 constituencies. The Thai Rak Thai Party was later accused and found guilty of paying smaller parties to contest the election to fulfill the 20% rule, while the Democrat Party was accused of paying smaller parties not to. The by-elections were suspended by the Constitution Court while it deliberated whether to annul the main elections. In press interviews in exile, Thaksin was to insist on his technical majority.[121]

Invalidation of the elections

On 8 May 2006, the Constitutional Court ruled 8–6 to invalidate the April elections based on the awkward positioning of voting booths. The ruling was called a landmark case in "judicial activism."[122] The Democrat Party, which had boycotted the April elections, said they were now ready to contest an October election.[123]

A new election was ordered and later set for 15 October. The Court found the Election Commissioners guilty of malfeasance and jailed them. But the election was cancelled when the military seized power on 19 September.

Break from politics

Thaksin announced on 4 April 2006 that he would not accept the post of Prime Minister after Parliament reconvened, but would continue as Caretaker Prime Minister until then.[124]

He then delegated his functions to Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Chidchai Wannasathit, moved out of Government House, and went on vacation.

September 2006 coup

In the evening of 19 September 2006, while Thaksin was visiting New York City, US, to attend a United Nations summit and speak at the Council on Foreign Relations, the army took control of Bangkok. At Government House, some 50 soldiers ordered approximately 220 policemen in the complex to lay down their weapons. Troops also surrounded the Thaicom satellite receiving station and state-run television station Channel 11. By the morning of 20 September, tanks and military vehicles armed with machine guns were stationed at Government House, the Royal Plaza and government units along Rajdamnoen Avenue.[125]

Troops participating in the coup were from the 1st and 3rd Army Regions, the Internal Security Operations Command, the Special Warfare Centre and Army units in Nakhon Ratchasima and Prachin Buri provinces and sections of the Navy.[126] According to coup leader Army Commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the coup leaders had arrested Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit and Defense Minister Thammarak Isaragura na Ayuthaya.[127]

The military, originally calling itself the Council for Democratic Reform under the Constitutional Monarch (CDRM), issued a statement citing the government's alleged lèse majesté, corruption, interference with state agencies, and creation of social divisions as reasons for the coup.[128] It declared the king of Thailand the head of state, and said elections would be held soon to return democracy to the country. Thaksin later arrived in Britain, where he had family.

Thai Rak Thai party

Many Thai Rak Thai party members were reported to have resigned from the party in the aftermath of the coup for fear that the party would be dissolved by the junta and its members banned from politics. These included Somsak Thepsuthin and 100 members of the Wang Nam Yom faction. It was not clear whether Suriya Jungrungreangkit, another influential member of the faction, would also resign. Sonthaya Kunplome was reported to have led 20 members of the Chonburi faction in resigning from the party.[129][130]

On 2 October 2006 Thaksin and his former deputy Somkid Jatusipitak resigned from the TRT.[131][132] Chaturon Chaisang took over as party head.

The TRT was finally dissolved on 30 May 2007 by the Constitutional Tribunal, which banned over 100 of its executives, including Thaksin, from politics for five years, based on charges that two party executives (Defense Minister Thammarak and Pongsak Raktapongpaisarn) bribed a smaller party to stand in the April 2006 election. The Democrat party was cleared on a similar charge.

2006 Bangkok New Year's Eve bombings

On 31 December 2006 and 1 January 2007, several bombs exploded in Bangkok, killing and wounding a number of bystanders. General Surayud accused "those who lost power as a result of the military takeover" of masterminding the bombings, but did not directly identify Thaksin. Thaksin went on CNN to publicly deny any involvement in the bombings. The government did not make any arrests in the case.[133]

Legal charges

Thaksin's diplomatic passport was revoked on 31 December 2006 after the junta accused him of engaging in political activities while in exile. Thai embassies were ordered not to facilitate his travels.

A junta-appointed Assets Examination Committee froze Thaksin's assets and attempted to bring charges against him. The AEC was criticized for being stacked with anti-Thaksin appointees. At one point, AEC Secretary Kaewsan Atibodhi claimed that "evidence and witnesses are useless," when an AEC panel recommended legal action without hearing 300 witnesses or considering 100 additional pieces of evidence.[134] The AEC froze Thaksin's assets

In January 2007, the Financial Institutions Development Fund complied with an Assets Examination Committee request to file a charge against Thaksin and his wife over their purchase of four 772 million baht plots of land from the FIDF in 2003. The charge was based on alleged violation of Article 100 of the National Counter Corruption Act, which prohibits government officials and their spouses from entering into or having interests in contracts made with state agencies under their authority.

The Assets Examination Committee also accused Thaksin of issuing an unlawful cabinet resolution approving the spending of state funds to buy rubber saplings.

In March 2007, the Office of the Attorney-General charged Thaksin's wife and brother-in-law with conspiring to evade taxes of 546 million baht (US$15.6 million) in a 1997 transfer of Shin Corp shares.

The Assets Examination Committee found Thaksin guilty of malfeasance for obstructing competition by imposing an excise tax on telecom operators. Thaksin's Cabinet had approved the relevant executive decree in 2003.

Purchase of Manchester City Football Club

Already as prime minister, Thaksin had unsuccessfully sought to buy the English Premier League football clubs Fulham and later Liverpool, in what critics claimed was a publicity stunt in response to his political problems.[135]

On 21 June 2007, now out of office, he bought Premier League club Manchester City for £81.6 million.[136] He became briefly popular with fans, especially after appointing Sven-Göran Eriksson manager of the club and bringing in prominent players.[137] He sold the club to investors from Abu Dhabi United Group Investment and Development Limited in September 2008 for a reported £200 million.[138]

Convictions and exile

In May 2007, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said Thaksin was free to return to Thailand, and he would personally guarantee Thaksin's safety, conflicting with statements from Sonthi. In January 2008 Thaksin's wife Potjaman was arrested on arrival in Bangkok but released on bail after appearing at the Supreme Court, with orders not to leave the country.[139] She was set to be tried for alleged violation of stock-trading and land sale laws.[140]

On 28 February 2008, Thaksin arrived in Bangkok after 17 months in exile. He was arrested on arrival but soon released on bail. Thaksin again stated he would not re-enter politics and wished to focus on his football interests.[141][142] In March Thaksin pleaded not guilty before the Supreme Court in one of his two criminal corruption cases. He was ordered to report back on 11 April after the court granted a month long trip to England.[143]

In June the Supreme Court denied Thaksin's request to travel to China and Britain, since his corruption case was set for trial, saying there were not enough reasons for him to travel. He was ordered to surrender his passport after arraignment.[144][145] In July the Court assumed jurisdiction over the fourth corruption charge against Thaksin concerning the soft loans to Burma. The court also agreed to hear allegations that Thaksin, his former cabinet, and three members of the current government, broke anti-gambling laws by setting up the new state lottery in 2003.[146][147]

Potjaman was found guilty on 31 July and sentenced to three years imprisonment, but released on bail. The Bangkok Criminal Court also convicted her adopted brother Bhanapot Damapong and her secretary, who allegedly held assets for Thaksin by proxy, of tax evasion.[148][149]

Request for asylum in Britain

On 10 August 2008, Thaksin and Potjaman flew to London from Beijing, where they had been attending the 2008 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony in violation of bail terms.[150] Thaksin said it was his wish to return to Thailand but claimed it was not currently safe for him and his family.[151][152] He announced his intention to seek political asylum in Britain,[153] claiming his political enemies were interfering with the judiciary.

The Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions issued a second arrest warrant on 16 September 2008 against Thaksin over another of the four pending corruption cases and ordered suspension of the trial.[154][155] Several more arrest warrants were issued over subsequent no-shows at various corruption trials.[156][157][158][159] [160]

Ratchadaphisek land verdict

On 21 October 2008, the Supreme Court's Criminal Division for Holders of Political Positions ruled that Thaksin, while prime minister, abused his power to help his wife buy public land at auction, and sentenced him to two years in jail; however, the charge against Potjaman had lapsed, and the land and properties she gained under the deal could not be seized since she herself had held no political office. The Court also revoked her arrest warrant for this case.[161]

Soon after, Thaksin told Reuters, "I have been informed of the result. I had long anticipated that it would turn out this way," and added that the case was politically motivated.[162]

Chief prosecutor Seksan Bangsombun called on Britain to extradite him.[163] Thaksin now denied he was seeking political asylum in Britain.[164]

Self-imposed exile

On 10 November 2008, a Philippine spokesman said his government would "politely" turn down any request for political refuge from Thaksin due to Manila's "friendly" relations with Bangkok[165] amid Thai newspaper reports that Thaksin could land in Manila while his brother-in-law, Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, was set to arrive for a scheduled state visit on 10 November.[166][167]

The British Government Home Office, meanwhile, revoked Potjaman and Thaksin's visas due to their convictions, while the Bangkok British Embassy e-mailed airlines directing them to disallow either of them to board flights to Britain.[168]

In late 2008, Arabian Business reported after an exclusive interview that the UK froze $4.2 billion of his assets in the UK. However, the UK government has not confirmed or denied this claim.[169]

Thaksin had reportedly considered sanctuaries such as China, the Bahamas, Nicaragua, and several other countries in South America and Africa. Reports said the Shinawatras were granted Bahamas honorary citizenship and Nicaragua honorary citizenship and were building a £5.5 million home in China. The visa revocation rendered moot the UK extradition issue, but the Office of the Attorney General said prosecutors were working on extradition documents and added even if Thaksin decided to live in a country with which Thailand has no extradition treaty, "authorities could ask for him to be handed over on a reciprocal basis." As of late May 2009, he reportedly remained in Dubai.[170][171][172] A spokesman claimed Thaksin was traveling on six passports, none of them Thai.[173] In December 2008 Thaksin used high-ranking connections to obtain a one-year visa for Germany. The visa was withdrawn on 28 May 2009 when the German government became aware of the arrangement. Thaksin then obtained status as a diplomat of Nicaragua.[174]

Songkran unrest

In mid-April 2009, violent protests by a coalition of mostly Thaksin-supporters calling themselves the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) led to the cancellation of the ASEAN summit in Pattaya and declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok. While Thaksin had been giving enthusiastic encouragement at UDD rallies via satellite and phone-in link, at one point calling for a "people's revolution," following the suppression of the protests he claimed to have merely been offering "moral support."[175][176]

Thaksin supported protests by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship against the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, demanding Thaksin be allowed to return free from all the earlier corruption charges.[21] The Government revoked Thaksin's passport for his role in inciting the protests on 11 April 2009 that caused the cancellation of the ASEAN in Pattaya and subsequent rioting.[23][177][178] Thaksin denied leading the UDD, claiming he only gave them "moral support."[20]

Money laundering allegations

In April 2009, Privy Councilor General Pichitr Kullavanijaya reported he had been informed by former US ambassador to Thailand Ralph L. Boyce that Thaksin had laundered 100 billion baht (US$2.8 billion) through Cayman Island bank accounts and was using the funds to organize the anti-government protests. However, both Thaksin and Boyce denied the charges.[179]

Economic advisor to Cambodia

On 4 November 2009, it was announced that Thaksin Shinawatra had been appointed a special advisor to the Cambodian government and to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Cambodian state television said Cambodia would refuse to extradite Thaksin because it considered him a victim of political persecution, despite his criminal conviction of corruption charges.

On 5 November 2009, Thailand recalled its ambassador from Cambodia in protest.[180]

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stated this was "the first diplomatic retaliation measure".[180] He said Cambodia was interfering in Thailand's internal affairs and as a result all bi-lateral co-operation agreements would be reviewed.[180][180] In the months prior to the Cambodian decision, troops of both nations had clashed over land near Preah Vihear Temple which is claimed by both countries, leading to a deterioration in relations.[180] At 8.30 pm local time on 5 November Cambodia announced it was withdrawing its ambassador from Thailand as a retaliatory measure.[181][182] Sok An, a member of the Council of Ministers and Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, said Thaksin's appointment is a decision internal to Cambodia and "conforms to international practice".[182] The mutual withdrawal of ambassadors is the most severe diplomatic action to have occurred between the two countries.[182]

Frozen asset seizure

Prior to the verdict

On 26 February 2010, the Supreme Court was scheduled to render its verdict on whether to seize his family's Thai assets, worth 76 billion baht, which were frozen by the AEC after the coup. The AEC froze the assets under the authority of Announcement No. 30 of the military junta.[15] Tensions ran high through Thailand, as Abhisit Vejjajiva warned the public of the possibility that Thaksin's supporters would spark violence in the aftermath of the Court's verdict. Tens of thousands of government security forces were deployed, particularly in routes leading to Bangkok. However, the UDD denied that it would rally on the date of the verdict.[183][184] The nine Supreme Court judges had to make a judgment on accusations of abnormal wealth through policy corruption. Policy corruption, was defined by the court as the abuse of powers by implementing economic policies that, while in themselves legal and of potential benefit to society and the economy, also aided companies that were owned in part by the policy maker.[102] The prosecution claimed that Thaksin abused his powers five times while Premier.

The verdict

The court first ruled that Thaksin and Potjaman were the real owners of the assets, rather than his children and relatives. The court also ruled that it had the authority to seize assets, based on the announcements of the junta. The court found Thaksin guilty of four out of five counts of policy corruption, and ordered that 46 billion in his assets be seized. The remaining 30 billion continued to remain frozen.

The judges said they decided to seize 46 billion because it was the difference in value of Shin Corp. shares from the date when he came to office and the value when the shares were sold to Singapore's Temasek Holdings in early 2006. Note that, Thaksin had declared around 500 million baht in assets and Pojaman had 8 billion to 9 billion baht while Thaksin served as prime minister. The National Anti-Corruption Commission is expected to file criminal charges against Thaksin and Pojaman for misleading about their assets in a separate case.[186] Nevertheless, during that period, Shin shares gained 121%, compared with a 128% gain in the benchmark SET index, while Siam Cement, one of Thailand’s premier blue chip companies, gained 717%.[189] The judges did not find that Thaksin was guilty of malfeasance. They also noted that any benefit to the government from Thaksin's policies was irrelevant to the ruling. The government reaped approximately 100 billion baht in increased revenue from changes in the concession agreements alone.[190]


In an email to his supporters, Thaksin compared the court's verdict to the dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai Party, and claimed that the court was used as a tool. He also noted how the Thai stock market rose to the benefit of many companies, not just his, and claimed that all charges against him were politically-motivated. He thanked his supporters for not protesting while the verdict was being read, and implored them to use non-violent means in the future. Pojaman na Pombejra, Thaksin's ex-wife, insisted that tens of billions of baht of her wealth had been given to her children and relatives well before Thaksin took office in 2001, and hence were not related to the office of the prime minister under the National Anti-Corruption Commission Law. She denied that her children and relatives were nominees of her and her husband. She also denied having any control over Ample Rich and Win Mark, two firms that the AEC had accused of being her nominees.[191] In spite of Pojaman's claim, Thaksin was the authorized signator for Ample Rich through 2005, making him the only individual authorized to withdraw funds from the company's account until he transferred the authority to his children, four years after he took office in 2001.[192]

The CEO of DTAC, AIS's largest competitor, denied that DTAC or the government had been cheated in any way by AIS. “When there have been changes to the concessions, there has been kind of a give and take,” he noted.[193]

Some UDD members held a small protest in front of the court, but did not disrupt the ruling as the government had predicted they would. The UDD leaders announced that a large-scale protest is scheduled to be held on 14 March 2010.

On the evening of 27 February (Saturday of a 3-day holiday), M67 grenades were thrown from a motorcycle outside three branches of Bangkok Bank, with two of them exploding causing light damage to pavement and a glass wall. Nobody was hurt or injured in the attacks. The perpetrators were not caught, and no organization claimed responsibility for the attacks. Thaksin and the UDD were quick to deny any involvement. A UDD leader condemned the attackers and accused the Abhisit government of masterminding the attacks so that they could crackdown on the UDD. The Abhisit government ordered the Internal Security Operations Command to step up security around the capital for an indefinite period of time.[194][195][196] An arrest warrant was issued based on sketches of a motorcycle driver.[197]

Royal decorations

Thaksin has received the following royal decorations in the Honours System of Thailand:

Foreign royal decorations

Thaksin has received the following royal decorations in the Honours System of Brunei Darussalam:

See also


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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Chuan Leekpai
Prime Minister of Thailand
2001 – 2006
Succeeded by
Surayud Chulanont
New title
Newly created
Special Economic Adviser to Cambodia
2009  – 2010
Office abolished
Business positions
Preceded by
John Wardle
Manchester City F.C. chairman
2007 – 2008
Succeeded by
Khaldoon Al Mubarak