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Thaksin Shinawatra factor in Thai politics

Published : Monday, 18 March, 2024 at 12:00 AM  Count : 2694

Thaksin Shinawatra factor in Thai politics

Thaksin Shinawatra factor in Thai politics

Thaksin implemented his ambitious "Thaksinomics" agenda, introducing a universal healthcare system, rural development programs, and farming subsidies. His policies struck a chord with the rural poor and urban working class, marking a significant shift in Thailands political arena and challenging traditional power dynamics. Thaksins charismatic leadership and promises of tangible change resonated deeply, securing him consecutive electoral victories in 2005.

Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, was freed in February 2024 on parole after serving a six-month sentence for crimes linked to corruption. From 2001 until his administration was overthrown in a military coup in 2006, Thaksin led over Thailand. He was a towering but controversial figure in Thai politics, and his populist ideas resonated with rural residents who felt ignored by the countrys ruling class. Thaksin, 74, continued to have an outsized influence on Thai politics even after he fled the country in 2008 to evade prosecution for crimes committed while in government, including abuse of power.

By the way, Thailands political landscape has been indelibly shaped by the enigmatic figure of Thaksin Shinawatra, a businessman-turned-politician whose rise to power, controversial reign, and dramatic fall from grace have left an enduring imprint on the countrys political history. For over two decades, Thaksins name has been inextricably linked to the countrys political discourse, evoking a range of emotions from fervent adulation to intense antipathy. His populist policies, authoritarian tendencies, and polarizing influence have not only transformed the dynamics of Thai politics but have also revealed deep-rooted societal fissures that continue to reverberate to this day.

The Rise of a Populist Icon: Thaksins foray into politics began in 1998 when he founded the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais) party, capitalizing on his business acumen and personal charisma. He positioned himself as a champion of the disenfranchised, promising economic prosperity and improved social services. Thaksins ability to connect with the common people through his populist narrative resonated deeply, propelling him to an unexpected victory in the 2001 general elections.

Upon assuming the premiership, Thaksin implemented his ambitious "Thaksinomics" agenda, introducing a universal healthcare system, rural development programs, and farming subsidies. His policies struck a chord with the rural poor and urban working class, marking a significant shift in Thailands political arena and challenging traditional power dynamics. Thaksins charismatic leadership and promises of tangible change resonated deeply, securing him consecutive electoral victories in 2005.

Controversies and the Coup: As Thaksins grip on power solidified, concerns over his authoritarian tendencies and alleged corruption began to mount. The controversial "War on Drugs" campaign, launched in 2003, tarnished his reputation as reports of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses surfaced. Allegations of undermining democratic institutions, suppressing dissent, and centralizing power within his inner circle fueled growing dissent among his opponents.

The Peoples Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or the "Yellow Shirts," emerged as a formidable adversary, staging mass demonstrations that culminated in a military coup on September 19, 2006, while Thaksin was abroad.

Thaksin, who found himself ousted from power and faced with corruption charges, initially chose to remain in self-imposed exile rather than face imprisonment.

Exile and the Red Shirt Movement: Thaksins ouster did not diminish his influence; instead, it galvanized his supporters, known as the "Red Shirts," who viewed his removal as a subversion of democracy. The Red Shirt movement emerged as a potent force, staging massive protests demanding Thaksins return and the restoration of his political power.

Despite his physical absence, Thaksins influence over Thai politics remained palpable, as his allies and supporters continued to wield significant power and mobilize grassroots support. The Red Shirt protests reached their zenith in 2010, when they occupied central Bangkok for months, demanding the resignation of the government and the restoration of Thaksins political influence. The standoff escalated into violent clashes with security forces, resulting in at least 90 casualties-a grim reminder of the deep divisions within Thai society.

The Return and Grand Bargain: After nearly two decades in exile, Thaksin Shinawatras dramatic return to Thailand in August 2023 marked a significant turning point. His arrival coincided with the election of his ally, Srettha Thavisin, as Prime Minister, cementing a grand political bargain between Thaksins Pheu Thai Party and its erstwhile adversaries.

The circumstances surrounding Thaksins return were carefully orchestrated, involving his surrender to face legal charges, a brief stint in prison, and the prospect of a royal pardon facilitated by the newly elected government. This grand bargain aimed to end the protracted power struggle between Thaksins populist movement and the conservative establishment aligned with the military and monarchy.

However, the formation of the new government drew criticism from pro-democracy advocates and raised concerns about the integrity of the electoral process. The grand bargain, while offering a temporary respite from political turmoil, is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, as Thaksins return has reignited the polarizing dynamics that have defined Thai politics.

Thaksins Lasting Legacy: Thaksin Shinawatras influence on Thai politics is undeniable. His populist policies and rhetoric have reshaped the countrys political discourse, empowering the marginalized and challenging traditional power structures. His ability to mobilize grassroots support and his unwavering determination have made him a polarizing figure, inspiring fervent loyalty among his supporters and deep-seated resentment from his detractors.

One of Thaksins most enduring legacies is the reframing of Thai politics around the rural-urban divide, a cleavage that has become increasingly pronounced and has fueled polarization within the country. However, his detractors accuse him of undermining democratic institutions, consolidating power, and using populist rhetoric to mask alleged corruption and self-serving agenda.

As Thailand undergoes an uncertain future, Thaksins role and his ability to shape the nations destiny will undoubtedly continue to be a subject of intense scrutiny and debate. Whether he emerges as a unifying force or a catalyst for further polarization remains to be seen. However, one thing is certain: the Thaksin Shinawatra factor will continue to cast a long shadow over Thai politics, serving as a testament to the enduring impact of this enigmatic and polarizing figure.

The writer is a political analyst based in Dhaka and a researcher at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA), Dhaka






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