With the current Thai political situation ongoing for more than five years, it’s still difficult for most westerners to understand what’s happening as they don’t know who the key players are. Thai politics is actually not that difficult to figure out, once you know who everybody is and why they’re doing what they’re doing. With the current situation in Thailand already in its sixth year and probably continuing indefinitely, these six main players are the ones to watch, at least for the foreseeable future.
Exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – One of the most important key players in Thailand’s political situation is Thaksin Shinawatra. Understanding who he is is key to understanding Thai politics.
Thaksin Shinawatra is an extremely wealthy businessman. A self-made billionaire, he was elected twice as prime mInister of Thailand. Complaints of corruption were often heard about his administration although, to many in Thailand, his was no more corrupt than every administration before or since, as Thailand has always been one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
Five years ago, in 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin was ousted as Prime Minister by an illegal military coup. The Thai military, supported by the wealthy and elite in Thailand, were unhappy Thaksin was gaining a lot of power, due to his new policies to help the poor. Having become “too big for his boots”, he had to go and they made sure that happened.
Nowadays, exiled-PM Thaksin Shinawatra lives in pretty much any country that will have him. Dubai has been his latest home, with side trips to Cambodia and Europe here and there. Thaksin is however still trying to regain his role as prime minister by funding anti-government opposition while living outside the country.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva – The current Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva is leader of the Democratic Party and has been PM since the end of 2008. He was not elected but was appointed as PM by the Thai Parliament after the winners of the election, the People’s Power Party (PPP), who won the election by a landslide were declared ‘unconstitutional’ by the Thai Supreme Court and disbanded.
The PPP were said to be allies of ex-PM Thaksin, and so Abhisit was put in power instead). Since his election, he has become increasingly unpopular as many Thais believe he’s not a legitimate prime minister.
Calls for his resignation have become louder in the past few months, with anti-government protesters (red shirts) calling for him to leave office and for a legitimate election to be held. Elections were finally scheduled for July, 2011 with Abhisit running as his party, the Democrats, prime ministerial candidate.
Over the last couple of years, Abhisit’s government has also been charged with several cases of corruption, with an investigation still ongoing (Abhisit spent a long time trying to avoid investigation, until with mounting public pressure, he had no choice but to name a special panel to investigate the charges). But, as much of the legal system in Thailand is also corrupt, it’s not surprising, in most cases, all charges were dropped.
Abhisit’s government has been instrumental in blocking access to anti-government websites, turning off the signal to an anti-government TV station, and manipulating numbers of anti-government protesters, stating only 25,000 red shirt protesters were at events when, to anyone who was there, it was obvious the number was in the hundreds of thousands.
Yingluck Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party – Yingluck Shinawatra is the youngest sister of illegally deposed prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra. She is also the prime ministerial candiate for the Pheu Thai Party, the main political party that’s running against the Democrats. Pheu Thai is expected to get the most seats in the July general election.
As of last week, the latest polls show her running far ahead of Abhisit Vejjajiva with an expectation that, unless the current government of Abhisit does something illegal (which in a country like Thailand isn’t so far removed from the realm of possibility) or the Thai military insitutes yet another coup, Yingluck will be Thailand’s next prime minister and its first female one.
The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) (The Yellow Shirts) – Headed by people who are the rich and elite of Thailand and supported by the Thai military, they were instrumental in getting Thaksin’s Shinawatra’s prime ministership dissolved by a military coup.They began mass protests against Thaksin a year before he was kicked out.
The PAD are also known as the ‘yellow shirts’ as they all wore the yellow shirts that used to be a way of saying you were loyal to the Thai King. (Since the yellow shirt group took over the shirt, many Thais now will not wear it as they don’t believe the yellow shirt group is loyal to the King and so do not want to be associated with them).
The PAD (yellow shirts) were also the group that took over and closed down Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok for more than two weeks in 2008, thus causing massive damage to the Thai economy.
The Asian Human Rights Commission have noted the PAD, “although they may not describe themselves as fascist, have fascist qualities”.
Anti-democracy, PAD leaders believe the Thai government should be run by the Thai elite and the military and say the ‘average Thai’ isn’t educated enough to vote for “the right people”.
The United Front Against Democracy (UDD) (The Red Shirts) – An anti-government group, some of whom are supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra and some of whom are not (they are made up mostly the poor in Thailand), the UDD, or red shirts, is the group currently protesting against PM Abhisit.
The UDD claims Abhisit’s government took power illegally and so set up massive anti-government protests last year asking for his resignation and for legitimate elections to be called.At the climax of the protests, 92 people were shot and killed by the Thai military, an operation that was ordered by Abhisit.
The red shirts also accuse the military, the judiciary, many of the wealthy and elite of undermining democracy by illegally interfering in politics and in political elections.
The UDD has also asked for the dissolution of the 2007 Constitution, which was drafted by the military after the 2006 coup.
Thai Military and Thai Police – Many of the Thai Military’s higher ranks are supporters of the PAD and the current government. However, rumor has it many in the lower ranks are supporters of the red shirt anti-government protesters, the red shirts, and not of the current PM Abhisit.
The Thai Police tend to be supporters of Thaksin Shinwatra and the red shirts. Thaksin, at one point, was high up in the police ranks and, so, has many supporters within the police themselves.
This simple explanation of the key figures in Thai politics cannot even begin to explain the hidden (and often corrupt) goings-on of many in Thai politics but it is a start to beginning to understand Thai politics.
As some of the main figures continue to try to hold onto power, the people who are really suffering in Thailand are the poor, most of whom only want a better lives for themselves and their families.