Thaksin Shinawatra


Thaksin Shinawatra
▪ 2002

      Though he came late to politics after spectacular successes in the telecommunications industry, Thaksin Shinawatra, one of Thailand's richest men, captured the imagination of voters with his promises of a fresh approach to politics and led his newly created Thai Rak Thai Party to a convincing win in national elections on Jan. 6, 2001. He was appointed prime minister by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on February 9. Thaksin's tenure in office, however, came perilously close to an abrupt end when the independent National Countercorruption Commission prosecuted him on April 3 before the Constitutional Court on charges of having concealed assets in a mandatory declaration of wealth. Acquitted by a vote of 8–7 on August 3, Thaksin was left free to pursue his populist political platform.

      Thaksin was born on July 26, 1949, in the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai. He was a descendant of Chinese merchants who had settled in the area before World War I. Although his father was a politician, Thaksin originally planned for a career in the police force. He graduated from the Police Cadet Academy in 1973, winning a scholarship to study criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University. On his return to Thailand, Thaksin first taught at the Police Academy before being tapped for special duties in the office of Prime Minister Seni Pramoj. In 1978 Thaksin completed a doctorate at Sam Houston (Texas) State University. Back in Thailand, he worked in police planning and public relations positions and became adept in computer technology. After having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the police force, he left the force in 1987 to run his business in the computer field alongside his wife, Potjaman, a general's daughter and an astute businesswoman.

      It was an era when business fortunes were inextricably linked with political influence. After a brush with bankruptcy, Thaksin eventually obtained a monopoly on satellite communications and a cell phone concession, and he rapidly translated these into a vast fortune. He first turned to politics when in 1994 he was asked to be foreign minister. Thaksin served three months until the fall of the government. The following year he assumed leadership of the Palang Dharma Party after winning a legislative seat in Bangkok, and on the party's entrance into Prime Minister Banharn Silpa-archa's government coalition in 1995, he served briefly as deputy prime minister. Thaksin served as deputy prime minister a second time under Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in 1997.

      In his new position as prime minister, Thaksin injected a corporate CEO-style of leadership, brushing aside the objections of bureaucrats and implementing a “workshop” approach to problem solving. His platform had great popular appeal. Thaksin promised the creation of a new bank for small businesses, a three-year debt moratorium for delinquent farmers, and a development fund for each of Thailand's 70,000 villages.

Robert Woodrow

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▪ prime minister of Thailand
born July 26, 1949, Chiang Mai, Thai.

      Thai politician and prime minister of Thailand (2001–06).

      A descendant of Chinese merchants who settled in the area before World War I, Thaksin originally planned for a career in the police force, although his father was a politician. He graduated from the Police Cadet Academy in 1973 and won a scholarship to study criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University in the United States. On his return to Thailand, Thaksin first taught at the Police Cadet Academy before being tapped for special duties in the office of Prime Minister Seni Pramoj. Thaksin returned to the United States and in 1978 completed a doctorate at Sam Houston (Texas) State University. Back in Thailand, he worked in police planning and public relations positions and became adept in computer technology. After having attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the police force, he left the force in 1987 to run his business in the computer field alongside his wife, Potjaman.

      After a brush with bankruptcy, Thaksin eventually obtained a monopoly on satellite communications and a cell phone concession, and he rapidly translated these into a vast fortune. He first turned to politics in 1994, when he was asked to be foreign minister. Thaksin served three months until the fall of the government. The following year he assumed leadership of the Palang Dharma Party after winning a legislative seat in Bangkok. On the party's entrance into Prime Minister Banharn Silpaarcha's government coalition in 1995, he served briefly as deputy prime minister. Thaksin served as deputy prime minister a second time under Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in 1997.

Robert Woodrow
      Thaksin, who campaigned on a populist platform, led his newly created Thai Rak Thai (TRT) Party to a convincing win in national elections on Jan. 6, 2001. He was appointed prime minister by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on February 9. Thaksin's tenure in office, however, came close to an abrupt end when the independent National Countercorruption Commission prosecuted him on April 3 before the Constitutional Court on charges of having concealed assets in a mandatory declaration of wealth. He was acquitted by a vote of 8–7 on Aug. 3, 2001. The following year he consolidated power after his party merged with two smaller coalition members to secure an enormous parliamentary majority. Despite allegations of cronyism and corruption, Thaksin generally enjoyed great public support, and his popularity increased with his swift response to the devastating tsunami that struck Thailand in December 2004. The following year the TRT won an absolute majority in the parliament, the first time any party had achieved such a feat. With the majority, Thaksin formed a one-party government, another unprecedented event in Thailand, where coalition governments had been the norm.

      In 2006 Thaksin sold his family-owned telecommunications corporation for nearly two billion dollars, and questions concerning the tax-free deal resulted in mass protests. Faced with calls for his resignation, he dissolved parliament in late February 2006 and called an election for April. Although his party won a majority, the election had been boycotted by major opposition parties, which ultimately led the Supreme Court to declare the results invalid. Thaksin, in turn, did not assume office but nevertheless remained in charge of an interim government, and elections were called for mid-October 2006. In September, while traveling abroad, Thaksin was ousted from the government by a military coup, and he subsequently went into exile, spending most of his time in Britain. In February 2008 he returned to Thailand to face corruption charges. In August, shortly after his wife was convicted of tax evasion and while both were out on bail, the couple fled to Britain. Thaksin was tried in absentia, and in October 2008 he was found guilty of corruption and sentenced to two years in prison.

Ed.
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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