Urban Thais overthrow Prime Minister Thaksin, Thailand, 2005-2006

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Time Period:  
4 April
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
To remove the Prime Minister from office and dismantle the Thaksin regime through a new round of constitutional reform by petitioning King Bhumibol for the application of his Royal Prerogative

In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra was elected the Prime Minister of Thailand and was the first one to serve a full term in that role. In March 2005, Thaksin was reelected in a landslide victory, with more than 60% of the popular vote. As the leader of the Thai Rak Thai (TRT, Thais love Thais) party, Thaksin’s neo-liberalist, populist policies made him very popular with the majority of Thais, especially the rural poor. However, his autocratic style, numerous human rights violations and favor towards privatization created opposition from urban elites, NGOs, and royalist civil servants.

Sondhi Limthongkul was a media mogul, the owner of the Manager Media Group, and he was a former Thaksin supporter turned opposition. In September 2005, the government removed Sondhi’s talk show from the state TV channel due to its frequent accusations of government corruption. Sondhi then launched a massive 4-month protest campaign using his media empire of cable TV, newspapers, magazines, books, CDs, and websites in order to build political momentum.

Sondhi turned his TV show into a weekly broadcast on his website. On 27 September 2005, his newspaper, the Manager Daily, published a sermon by popular monk Luang Ta Maha Bua, another previous Thaksin supporter turned critic, who accused Thaksin was aiming for the presidency. Another article claimed Thaksin had presided over a ceremony at the holy Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Both allegations implied Thaksin was attempting to usurp the King’s power. In response, Thaksin sued Sondhi for libel. However, the King made a rare intervention and reprimanded Thaksin for his lawsuit, after which Thaksin withdrew his case.

On 11 January 2006, a coalition of NGOs called FTA Watch organized a rally 10,000 strong in Chiangmai to protest free trade agreements talks between the US and Thailand. The demonstration became militant when the protesters broke through police lines and stormed the FTA meeting. On 14 January, hundreds of protesters led by Sondhi occupied the government building at midnight for twenty minutes.

On 23 January 2006, the Thaksin family sold their 49.6% stake in the Shin Corporation, a major Thai telecommunications company, to the Temasek Holdings, a Singapore investment company in a 1.88 billion tax free transaction. This generated public outrage over corruption and Thaksin “selling out” to foreigners. Sondhi used this opportunity to organize a demonstration on 4 February in the Royal Plaza that attracted 50,000 protesters. Four days later, on 8 February, Sondhi and other opposition leaders formed the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The party’s goals were to remove the prime minister from office.

On 24 February, Thaksin agreed to an election in April. In response to the demonstrations, pro-Thaksin counter-rallies had begun in early February. Leaders of the TRT hired people and organized mass demonstrations of support in northern provinces of Thailand, where Thaksin had a strong base in the rural poor. For the start of Thaksin’s election campaign on 3 March, 300 TRT representatives and 75 governors were assigned quotas to draft 10,000 supporters each. Hundreds of thousands of people were bused in to Sana Luang, Bangkok, to hear Thaksin’s campaign speech.

On 2 March, two villager groups from the north, calling themselves the “Caravan of Buggies” and the “Caravan of the Poor,” each around 2000 strong, started widely publicized marches to the capital to support Thaksin. Two weeks later, they arrived at Bangkok and settled in Chatuchak Park. Combined with hired taxi drivers, tens of thousands of people proclaimed support for Thaksin and called for continued policies to address the plight of the poor.

A series of anti-Thaksin rallies occurred in Bangkok on 11 February, 26 February, and 5 March. On 14 March, to try to force Thaksin to resign before the election, the PAD led 100,000 state enterprise workers to march from Sana Luang to the Government House and blockaded the Government House for several hours. They held another rally there on 25 March. On 29 March, PAD held a rally in the the tourist shopping district of Siam Square and occupied it for two days in order to pressure the passive business sector there. Faced with resistance from Thaksin’s supporters, Sondhi convinced the PAD to modify their objectives to demand royal intervention from King Bhumibol to remove Thaksin from office.

The Caravan of the Poor finally went back home to vote in the 2 April election. On 3 April, Thaksin announced his victory on national television, with 56% of the popular vote, 16 million votes out of 29 million cast. That night however, King Bhumibol Adulyadej intervened and had a private meeting with Thaksin. The next day, Thaksin announced that he would resign, but would continue to act as Prime Minister until a successor was elected by the Parliament. He claimed he resigned out of respect for the king’s 60th anniversary in two months. The king made a speech on 25 April advising that the election results be annulled, but he refused PAD’s request to appoint a prime minister himself, calling it “undemocratic.” Led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the Royal Thai Army overthrew Thaksin in a military coup on 19 September 2006.

Research Notes
Tejapira, Kasian. "Toppling Thaksin." New Left Review 39 (2006): 5.

Pye, Oliver, and Wolfram Schaffar. "The 2006 anti-Thaksin movement in Thailand: An analysis." Journal of Contemporary Asia 38.1 (2008): 38-61.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Meiri Anto, 26/02/2013