Thailand's modern history is characterized by
coups, military rule and short periods of unstable
democracy. Military dictator Phibun Songkhram came to
power in a coup in 1947. Thereafter, the country was
ruled by various generals until 1973, when student-led
protests caused the military dictatorship to fall. After
three years of shaky democracy, a new military regime
took over. In 1992 democracy was restored and in 2001
Thaksin Shinawatra was elected prime minister. He was
deposed in a coup in 2006, which became the starting
point for a protracted fight between supporters and
opponents of him.
After the US-backed coup against military dictator
Phibun Songkhram in 1944, democracy was restored, but
the political parties were weak. A new military coup was
carried out in 1947 and the following year Phibun was
again Thailand's leader.
The Korean War in the early 1950s pushed production
in the country and a period of economic growth began.
Foreign policy saw the United States and its allies Thai
generals as a bastion against communism in other parts
of Southeast Asia and provided extensive military and
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Thailand. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
Phibun tried to strengthen his position in 1957
through an election where the cheating was so obvious
that the election victory became the government's fall.
Another general, Sarit Thanarat, initiated a new
dictatorship. At the same time, the rapid economic
development continued. Japan began to make major
investments in the country, and the war in Vietnam gave
Thailand benefits as a supplier of goods. The Americans
were allowed to build several military bases and at the
same time expanded the road network and other
infrastructure in the disadvantaged eastern part of the
country. New generals took over after Sarit's death in
1963, and despite the success of communism in
neighboring countries, left-wing guerrillas never gained
a foothold in Thailand.
In the 1970s, student protests blossomed in Bangkok.
The US decision to withdraw from Vietnam and seek
relaxation with China had created uncertainty about the
future. The economic upturn stopped, and there were hard
times for many, not least in the capital. Student-led
protests against the regime led to the collapse of the
military dictatorship in 1973.
Three troubled years followed. Parties were formed at
a rapid pace, and besides the students, farmers, workers
and monks also began to organize themselves. When the
civilian governments proved unable to sort out the
situation, the militarily-led Nawaphon movement grew
under the slogan "nation, religion, king". In 1976, a
military-led government was installed, ending democracy.
The new dictatorship went hard to the left activists.
In 1980, General Prem Tinsulanonda became head of
government and the close contacts with the United States
were restored. At the same time, the attitude was
softened towards dissent, and political prisoners were
released. Thailand began to reach the same growth rates
as in the 1960s. The modernization that followed led to
a change in the social structure of society, where a
middle class began to emerge.
At the 1988 election, the country's oldest party, the
Democratic Party, strongly declined in favor of the
right-wing party Thaination, the powerful businessmen's
party. Its leader Chatichai Choonhavan became prime
minister. Now a market liberal policy was initiated. The
protection duties were discontinued, a number of
regulations and subsidies were removed and a
privatization program was initiated. The reforms,
combined with low labor costs and comparatively stable
political conditions, made the country attractive to
Hundreds of protesters are killed
Soon there was a concern about the negative effects
of free capitalism: inflation, corruption, traffic and
environmental problems and more. Several distrustful
votes were directed at the government, and senior
officers expressed their displeasure. A bloodless coup
was carried out in February 1991. In March of the
following year elections were held which resulted in a
weak coalition government. When it failed to present a
credible leader, the Prime Minister's post was taken
over by Suchinda Kraprayoon, one of the men behind the
This time a strong reaction came from the public.
Demonstrations in Bangkok demanded that the head of
government must be elected. The protests continued
throughout the spring. On May 17, Suchinda decided to
crush the protests. At least 100 people are believed to
have been killed during three days of violence. The king
intervened to find a solution. Suchinda resigned and a
transitional government was appointed. The new
commander-in-chief declared that the military would not
intervene during his tenure.
In the fall of 1992, the Democratic Party got the
most seats, but almost as many went to the Thaination
and a new party, National Development, which Chatichai
formed after the violence in May. Democratic Party
leader Chuan Leekpai became prime minister.
In connection with a land distribution program, the
government was accused of corruption in the spring of
1995. After a vote of no confidence, a new election was
held in July. The election became a triumph for the
"vote-buying policy" in the countryside. Thaination
secured the most seats in parliament, but not a single
water in Bangkok. Party leader Banharn Silapa-Archa
became prime minister in a naval party government. The
government proved increasingly openly corrupt and the
public support collapsed. In the fall of 1996, Banharn
resigned and a new election was announced.
Thaksin enters politics
The election was won by the Party for a new endeavor
- much because the Party bought votes in the poor
northeast. Yongchaiyudh Chavalit became prime minister
in a six-party coalition. Like previous governments, it
failed to agree on necessary reforms, which contributed
to the deep economic crisis that erupted in the summer
of 1997 (see Economic overview).
Meanwhile, another political process was underway:
the attempts to get a majority for a constitutional
reform that would give Thailand a truly democratic
constitution. In September 1997, the new constitution
was adopted, which stated that Thailand would be a
constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system
including freedom of the press, assembly and other
Chavalit resigned in November 1997 following
criticism of the government's handling of the economic
crisis. This made the reform work sluggish, while the
economic recovery was slow.
In the 2001 election, billionaire Thaksin
Shinawatra's two-year-old party of Thais loves Thais
(TRT) greatly and Thaksin became prime minister in a
three-party coalition. Several smaller parties then
joined the TRT, which completely came to dominate
Thaksin was known as a businessman but had no
political experience. He had earned a fortune in the
telecom industry and was considered Thailand's richest
man, until in 2001 he transferred large portions of his
assets to his son. Thaksin was soon accused of
contravening the constitution withholding information
about his fortune before entering the government, but he
was acquitted by the Constitutional Court.
Thaksin forms a one-party government
Thaksin promised in his election campaign to start a
"war on drugs and corruption". He gave farmers a
three-year deferral of loan repayments to a state bank,
all the country's villages would have access to
investment funds and he introduced public health care.
The measures were popular, especially in the
The war on drugs started in 2003. It became a bloody
story that cost more than 2,500 people and faced sharp
criticism from the outside world. About the same time, a
rebellion in the Muslim provinces of southern Thailand
burst forth (read more here).
On Monday, July 2004, Thailand suffered a severe
natural disaster. Flood waves (tsunami), triggered by an
earthquake in the Indian Ocean, hit the southwestern
coast, especially around the tourist island of Phuket.
Thousands of people in Thailand were killed in the
tsunami, including over 500 Swedes. Many tourist resorts
and fishing villages were destroyed and hundreds of
thousands of people lost their livelihood.
The Thai authorities were considered to handle the
disaster well. Injured people quickly received help from
the medical services and the homeless were given
temporary housing. Reconstruction started relatively
quickly and tourism gradually recovered.
When elections were held in February 2005, TRT won a
landslide victory. Thaksin was able to form a
single-party government with a large majority in
parliament. The prime minister's popularity was based on
the reforms he had implemented, including cheap
healthcare and favorable credits to agriculture and
small businesses. The country's good economy also
benefited Thaksin, as did the harsh measures against
drug-related crime and the south rebellion.
Thaksin is deposited in a coup
In 2005, several disclosures about Thaksin's private
business came. He was charged with abuse of power and
corruption. The criticism escalated when it emerged that
the Thaksin family had sold the country's largest
telecom company to Singapore for $ 2 billion without
paying taxes on profits. The protests forced Thaksin to
announce new elections in April 2006. The opposition
decided to boycott the election. TRT again won big and
Thaksin was able to remain at his post.
The King now asked the Constitutional Court to "clean
up the mess". He pointed out that a parliament without
opposition cannot be called democratic. The
Constitutional Court decided that the election would be
redone during the fall.
But you couldn't make any choice. Instead, Thaksin
was deposed on September 19, 2006 in a bloodless
military coup. The coup leader Sonthi Boonyaratglin
announced that a military council would rule the country
until a new government was appointed. New elections
would be held within one year, after the adoption of a
new constitution. A day later, the king gave the
cupmakers his support.
The military coup was condemned internationally, but
in mild terms. The days after the coup, the military
struck Thaksin's closest staff. Several ministers in the
deposed government were detained.
On October 1, the military junta appointed retired
general Surayud Chulanont as prime minister until the
new election in autumn 2007. At the same time, a
provisional constitution was presented that gave the
junta great powers, including the right to dismiss the
government, appoint a transitional parliament and
appoint a commission to draft a proposal for a new
In Chulanant's new government, only he and the
Defense Minister had military background. Other
ministers were academics, bankers or bureaucrats. The
transition parliament presented by the junta in October
consisted almost exclusively of party-politically
independent bureaucrats, academics and military.
After the race, TRT began to disintegrate at a rapid
pace. Thaksin left the post as party leader and went
into self-elected exile. In May 2007, the TRT was banned
by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that bribery
occurred within the party in connection with the April
2006 election. Thaksin and over a hundred other TRT
politicians were banned from acting politically for five
In June 2007, Thaksin was indicted for exploiting his
position as prime minister for personal financial gain.
Among other things, he would have helped his wife to buy
land at a favorable price. When the trial began in
August, Thaksin refused to appear in the courtroom, and
an international arrest warrant was issued against the
Thaksin couple. At that time, several other corruption
investigations were underway against the former prime
minister. In most cases, he was suspected of pursuing a
policy that favored his large family business.
The Constitutional Commission's proposal for a new
constitution was approved in a referendum in August
2007. Before the December elections that year, the
Thaksin politicians gathered in the right-wing People's
Power Party (PPP), led by Samak Sundaravej. During the
election campaign, Samak said he saw himself as
Thaksin's deputy. It was a message that gave great
success on election day. PPP won 233 of the 480 seats in
the House of Representatives, while the main opponent
Democratic Party received 165 seats.
Yellow shirts against red shirts
When the new parliament met for the first time in
January 2008, Samak was elected prime minister, and the
PPP formed a coalition government together with five
small parties. The most important ministerial posts went
to people with strong ties to Thaksin. A month later,
Thaksin returned to Thailand. He appeared in court to
hear the charge against him and was subsequently
released on bail. In April, the laws of war were lifted
throughout the country, with the exception of the three
uprising-affected provinces of Yala, Pattani and
Narathiwat in the south.
In August 2008, Thaksin's wife, Pojaman Shinawatra,
was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion.
A few days later, the Thaksin spouses left Thailand and
settled in the UK.
Thaksin's opponents had gathered in the popular
movement the Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or the yellow
shirts, which were mainly made up of royalists, the
urban middle class and business people. The yellow
shirts had organized mass demonstrations against the
Thaksin government before the coup took place in the
fall of 2006. The movement now hoped to also contribute
to the PPP government's fall.
The yellow shirts started organizing demonstrations
in Bangkok in May 2008, which escalated during the fall
of the same year. Their demand was for the Samak
government to resign. Public buildings were stormed on
several occasions, including the Government Offices.
Thaksin's supporters gathered for resistance in a
movement called the Democratic Alliance Against
Dictatorship (UDD), or the Red Shirts. When a person was
killed in clashes between the two groups in Bangkok in
September, a temporary state of emergency was introduced
in the capital.
The yellow shirts occupy airports
The same month, the Constitutional Court announced
that Samak must resign, because he had broken the law
when he paid for a cooking show on TV for a fee.
According to the constitution, it is prohibited to have
income in addition to the trust assignment as a
politician. New Prime Minister became the former Judge
Somchai Wongsawat, PPP politician and brother-in-law to
In connection with Somchai's declaration of
government in Parliament in October, riots again
erupted. Two people were killed when tens of thousands
of yellow shirts tried to prevent members from
conducting the session. Somchai and the other members
managed to get into parliament, but well there the
meeting was canceled.
In October 2008, Thaksin was sentenced to two years
in prison for corruption in connection with his wife's
By the end of November, the situation in Bangkok was
extremely tense. A number of government buildings were
occupied by the yellow shirts, and the government had
been forced to move out of the city's old airport. The
yellow shirt demonstrations culminated with the
occupation of Bangkok's new airport, where Prime
Minister Somchai was expected to land on November 26.
All flights must be canceled and traffic redirected to
the city's old airport. Somchai was forced to land in
Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
The day after, the yellow shirts also occupied the
old airport. Bangkok's air traffic was thus completely
eliminated. The government, which gathered in Chiang
Mai, announced a state of emergency and rumors of a new
coup were circulating.
The Democratic Party gains power
Once again, Thailand's Constitutional Court entered
the picture. On December 2, 2008, the PPP and two other
Thaksin faithful parties were banned after being found
guilty of electoral fraud in connection with the 2007
election. The ban led to the PPP government falling and
yellow shirts leaving the airports. By then, around
300,000 tourists had been stranded and the country's
economy had been damaged by missing revenue from
tourism. Six people had been killed in the unrest since
August and hundreds had been injured.
On December 15, 2008, Democratic Party leader Abhisit
Vejjajiva was elected new prime minister in a special
vote in parliament. Thus, after eight years in
opposition, the liberal-conservative party regained
government power. Admittedly, Abhisit's coalition
government contained everything from people with strong
ties to the yellow shirts to defunct Thaksin
politicians, but it was dominated by the Democratic
Party. Born in the United Kingdom and educated at Eton
and Oxford, Abhisit represented the traditional power
elite based in the military, the royal house and
Bangkok's middle class.
Immediately after the change of government, the red
shirts began organizing demonstrations in Bangkok. They
considered that the government of Abhisit was not
legitimate because it was not appointed in general
elections. Instead, they saw the elected Thaksin as the
country's rightful leader.
The red shirts' protests escalated in March 2009 to
culminate in violent riots in April. Central government
buildings in Bangkok were surrounded and a scheduled
Asean meeting in Pattaya had to be canceled after the
red shirts stormed the meeting rooms. Police and
military were called to Bangkok's streets. On April 13,
violence reached its peak when dozens of people were
injured in clashes between red shirts and police. The
military then increased the pressure on the protesters,
who were forced to withdraw.
Political tensions escalated when the highly
respected King Bhumibol was hospitalized in September
2009 after suffering from pneumonia. Bhumibol's poor
health created concern among both the rulers and the
population, as the king is considered to be the
guarantor of keeping the divided country together.
After a period of relatively calm, around 100,000
redshirts gathered in the capital in March 2010 to
demand the government's resignation and re-election. A
well-publicized protest action was carried out on March
15-16, when around 20,000 red shirts in protest of the
government poured out large amounts of blood, which they
dropped from themselves, outside the prime minister's
office, the government building and the Democratic Party
In early April, the authorities announced a state of
emergency after the protesters tried to storm
Parliament. Due to the state of emergency, larger crowds
were banned, but the red shirts did not withdraw. When
police and soldiers on April 10 made an attempt to get
the red shirts to leave the streets, there were regular
riots in which 26 people were killed and over 800
The red shirts then moved to Bangkok's central
business and financial district, where many foreigners
were. They barricaded themselves in the Silom district,
and police and military were deployed around them.
The military strikes back
Negotiations in early May between the government and
representatives of the protesters on re-election and a
reconciliation plan soon went unnoticed. Instead, the
government warned against a tougher move against the
base of the Red Shirts, where around 5,000 protesters
gathered. Over a few days in mid-May, over 35 people
were killed and at least 200 injured in clashes between
soldiers and protesters.
At dawn on May 19, the military finally entered the
area of the red shirts, dispersed the protesters and
disbanded their camps. The leaders of the Red Shirts
surrendered to the police. A smaller group of militant
red shirts continued for some day to resist, among other
things by burning some 30 buildings on fire. But already
that evening, large parts of Bangkok were deserted.
Fourteen people were killed during the day. A total of
nearly 90 human lives had been harvested since the
demonstrations began in March. On May 21, Abhisit
announced that the scheme had been restored.
Some minor explosive charges were detonated in
Bangkok during the summer and autumn of 2010, and there
were suspicions that a small group of hardy red shirts
went underground and in this way pushed the resistance
further. At the same time, other red shirts began to
hold peaceful demonstrations again on the capital's
streets, despite the prevailing state of emergency.
The government announces new elections
In December 2010, the government lifted the state of
emergency that prevailed in Bangkok since the
government-critical riots erupted just over eight months
earlier. Instead of the state of emergency, the
so-called Internal Security Act, which gives security
forces the right to detain people for 30 days without
prosecution, now applied. Normally, seven days apply
before the detainee must be indicted or released. At the
same time, regular, peaceful demonstrations held
thousands of people.
At the end of the same month, 79 yellow shirts were
sentenced to prison or custody (minors) for
participation in the storming of a national television
station in connection with the yellow shirt protest
actions in August 2008. The judges were the first to be
targeted by members of the PAD. Among the convicted
there were no leaders for the movement.
In February 2011, thousands of yellow shirts gathered
in new government-critical protests - this time against
the Abhisit government. The dissatisfaction concerned
the government's handling of a border conflict with
Cambodia (see Foreign Policy and Defense), in which
nationalist yellow shirts thought Abhisit had gone too
far to meet the neighboring country. Around 2,000 yellow
shirts camped outside the government building in the
capital. Earlier in the month, about 30,000 red shirts
had performed major events on Bangkok's streets. The
actions were seen as part of the political camps'
position before the new parliamentary elections
announced by the government in May until July 3 of that
Yingluck Shinawatra's reign
Prior to the election, Thaksin camp was gathered in
the coalition For Thailand, with Thaksin's sister
Yingluck Shinawatra as leader and electoral locomotive.
The coalition won by a wide margin over the ruling
Democratic Party. Yingluck became Thailand's first
female prime minister and formed a government consisting
of Ministers from Thailand and three small allied
Yingluck's first two years in power became relatively
calm, but when in the fall of 2013 she proposed that
everyone who committed a crime during the political
unrest after the 2006 coup should be given impunity, new
street protests were triggered. The protesters, who
feared that the amnesty law was actually in order for
Thaksin to return to Thailand, demanded the resignation
of the government.
Yingluck refused to give in to the protests but did
not call out the military in the streets. When the
Democratic Party left its seats in Parliament in protest
of the government's retention, Yingluck announced a new
election in February 2014. For the protesters, however,
a new election was not the solution, as Thailand would
The protests continued, and when Election Day came,
around six million voters were prevented from voting
when protesters barred from polling stations in Bangkok
and the south. Many electoral districts were unable to
conduct the election, which a month later was declared
void by the Constitutional Court. Yingluck announced
another election, now until July 20.
The military regains power
In May 2014, the Constitutional Court once again
intervened in the policy by ordering Yingluck to resign
due to abuse of power in connection with the appointment
of an important service. Several other ministers were
also forced to step down. The remnants of Yingluck's
government formed a new temporary minister with Minister
of Commerce Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan as head of
On May 20, another power factor entered the scene,
namely the military. The army announced that it had
declared a state of emergency throughout Thailand on the
grounds that the order in the country must be restored.
Two days later, the army commander announced that a coup
had been carried out and that the military had taken
over the rule of the country. A military council was
formed which was charged with leading the country and
ensuring that political reforms were implemented.