Thailand: Background


Thailand has experienced extensive political turmoil in recent years. In 2006, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by a coup. Following the coup, a military junta instituted an interim constitution, outlining a one-year transitional period that included drafting a new constitution, approving the constitution through referendum, and holding elections. In August 2007, close to 26 million of the 45 million eligible voters went to the polls to participate in the referendum. Overall, the referendum was administered efficiently and was without violence. Allegations of vote buying and the exertion of undue influence on voters in the run up to the referendum were not considered serious enough by the Election Commission to have affected the outcome of the vote.

With the passing of the new constitution, parliamentary elections were scheduled for December 2007. Voter turnout in these elections was 74.5 percent, the highest in Thailand’s history. The elections were deemed ‘free’ and ‘fair’ by international observers, and the People’s Power Party (PPP), the successor to former Prime Minister Thaksin’s disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party, successfully formed a coalition within parliament.
In December 2008, the Constitutional Court disbanded the PPP and its two coalition parties on electoral fraud cases, allowing the Democrat Party (DP) to secure a coalition within parliament. DP leader Abhisit Vejjajiva became the new prime minister, but was met with disapproval by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin, who formed the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD). In response, Prime Minister Abhisit’s supporters formed the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Both groups contributed to civil unrest, culminating in the April-May 2010 UDD rallies in which 91 people were killed. Prime Minister Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces that continued for eight months.
Though tension has thawed between the UDD and the government in recent months, a political stalemate persists. Given the improved political climate and the less aggressive stance taken by the UDD, the government lifted the state of emergency in Bangkok and three surrounding provinces, returning the area to peacetime conditions. The DP has faced two separate dissolution cases due to misuse of campaign funds, but the Constitutional Court dismissed both cases. These rulings are controversial as Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved after facing similar charges.