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Southeast Asian Affairs 2006 Thaksin's Political Zenith and Nadir Thitinan Pongsudhirak The year 2005 is likely to be remembered as extraordinary, even peculiar, in the history of Thailand's evolving democracy since 1932. Within the year Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra soared to unprecedented political heights and then descended steeply into a political abyss. His Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party secured a thumping victory in the February 2005 General Election. Yet less than a year later, he faced a virulent Bangkok-based insurrection that called for no less than his resignation and permanent banishment from Thai politics. How did Thailand's most popularly elected prime minister who had risen so meteorically decline so precipitously? This article sheds some light on key episodes following Thaksin's reelection triumph in February 2005. It begins with the significance of the re-election and the factors that led to the TRT's overwhelming victory. In the immediate aftermath of his re-election, Thaksin exhibited uncharacteristic signs of magnanimity and benevolent statesmanship, which lasted just several weeks. By mid-2005, his authoritarian streaks returned in full force, fanning the flames of discontent over his governance. By September an anti-Thaksin movement broke out into the open, spearheaded by a disgruntled media tycoon who had been an erstwhile ally of the Prime Minister. While this movement was initially confined to the Bangkok-based intelligentsia, middle classes, and civil society groups, it expanded into a mass movement to topple Thaksin when his familyowned Shin Corporation (Shin Corp) was sold to the Singapore government's Temasek Holdings in January 2006. The Prime Minister's political standing appeared untenable as long as he remained unable to convincingly explain the controversial sale of Shin Corp. The article concludes with the implications of Thitinan Pongsudhirak is Assistant Professor of International Political Economy, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. ?> TABLE 1 Thailand's 6 February 2005 Elections: A breakdown by region Political Party Bangkok Central Northeast North South Total Constituency Seats Party-list Seats Total No. of MPs Thai Rak Thai32 Democrat Party4 Chart Thai1 Mahachon— Total37 80 7 10 97 126 2 6 2 136 71 5 76 1 52 1 54 310 70 18 2 400 67 26 7 100 377 96 25 2 500 Source: The Election Commission of Thailand. The Thai Rak Thai lost two constituency seats to Chart Thai and Mahachon in subsequent re-runs. 13 Q 3 D (Q C a Thaksin's Political Zenith and Nadir287 these developments for the post-Thaksin era, including Thailand's near-term prospects. Overwhelming Election Victory In line with widespread expectations, Thaksin and the TRT scored a crushing victory in Thailand's general election on 6 February 2005. Despite claims of vote-buying and fraud, the election was relatively clean by Thai standards. The TRT garnered more than 75 per cent of the 500 seats for members of parliament (MPs), including 67 party-list seats. With 25 party-list seats, the Democrats mustered just under 100, less than the 129 seats they won in the January 2001 election. Chart Thai Party remained relevant with 25 MPs. Mahachon Party, a newcomer from a Democrat breakaway faction, managed to win just one constituency, further testifying to a new era of Thai politics in which only existing parties with established voter bases can survive. The other two dozen-odd parties proved insignificant. For Thaksin, the TRT's result was well above his optimistic preelection prediction of 350 seats. Consequently, his control over Thailand's political environment was rock-solid, unsurpassed by any elected leader in Thailand's history.1 Key revelations from election results included the TRT's overwhelming support in the Bangkok metropolitan area. Of the 37 contested seats in the capital, the ruling party took 32, negating previously held views that the Democrats had regained the urban vote when it won the gubernatorial election in August 2004. This suggested that the Democrats had won the Bangkok governor's race partly because the TRT had fielded a weak candidate. Having carried almost all of the constituency seats in the south but just a handful elsewhere in the country, the Democrats became "regionalized", lacking nationwide appeal...


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