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Thaksin Shinawatra, a controversial media mogul and politician, was Prime Minister of Thailand until he was deposed in a military coup in September 2006 when he was in New York.
Background History of Thai Politics and How Thaksin rose up
Thailand had been a Kingdom under absolute monarchy throughout a history of over 700 years. At present she is a sixty-six-million populated Kingdom under Constitutional Monarchy.
During the past two century, the country was forced and rushed to evolve by western imperialism and the republic parliamentary revolutionary changes which came like falling dominoes started with French revolution and the fall of Russian Tsar. Though under several Kings' endeavour, Thailand did not have enough time to get her population educated and prepared for both western political, industrial and economic waves of changes. King Rama VII wrote after the military coup in 1932 that he would not agree for the power to be with any group who do not listen to the real voices of the people.
Since the conversion to the constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been democratic only in name or in parliamentary format. Most of the time, the country has been under military governments, aristocrats or elite politicians, not by the people, for the people or belonging to the people. Political freedom, freedom of speech and basic human rights were severely compromised.
Student-lead million of uprising in October 1973 lead to new vision of freeing the country from military government. Public media were allowed more freedom to criticize on politics and governments while personal rights become more respected. However, right-wing military and old-fashioned politicians like Samak Sundaravej overturned the reform with a massacre and vigorous media censor.
At the end of indochina war, huge influx of foreign investments, foreign factories did not wait for poor preparation of infrastructures and social cultures. Middle class people constitute only ten per cent of the sixty million population enjoyed the wealth and the increasing freedom leaving the majority poor in the rural areas and slums. The country has become more money-oriented.
Corruptions and briberies in all sectors have been exponentially on the rise. To win an election, an MP may have to pay up to 30 million bahts (1 million USD) for buying a vote at a rate of one to five hundred bahts (10-15USD) per head. Most politicians get elected because of vote-buying and return their investments in the House by selling themselves to pass biased resolutions supporting the governments particularly votes of confidence or corrupt budget bills.
Though the capital and some cities look good, the only minority in the urbans gets very rich and the distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities remains poor. Overall, the country gets worse in terms of widening class gaps as well as social and environmental problems.
Vicious circles are never-ending. During a relatively more democratic period, middle-class in the cities ignore the poor in the rural areas. Media accept bribes or avoid conflicts by filling their screens and pages with soap operas and junks. Corruptions among buraucrats and politicians have been well accomodated in practice of competing business. After a while military would step in. When absolute power corrupts absolutely, then people have to rise up when the military also corrupts.
Every time a coup was staged, some scapegoats or excuses were always made up for justification. Eventually, the following junta government would have to give people's political rights back. As a result, there have been 18 coup and a resultant 18 constitutions in the history of Thai politics.
Thaksin on the Rise
Thaksin left his police career to enter computer sales and failed. However, during a junta government in 1990, Thaksin Shinawatra through bribery and a strong ties with miliatry leaders, managed to get a monopoly concession on the only national communicaton satellite under his Shin Corporation. That was how he swiftly paved his way to become extremely rich and expand his empire later in insider trading of shares and real estates. Regular bribery of authorities have been a regular of his practice to get both insider's information and winning any up-coming government projects bidding.
May 1992 people's uprising lead to efforts to breakaway this vicious circle with more reform through 1997 constitution aiming at check and balance of powers between politically strengthened government and separately elected senators and anti-corruption institutes. Administrative courts, constitutional courts, Supreme courts, Senates, National Counter Corruptions Committe (NCCC) and election-control committee(ECC) were designed to join the check and balance of corruptors.
The economic crisis in 1997 left Thaksin with a great fortune when top government administrators leaked insider's information about the potential devaluation of baht to him. Because of such information leading to profitable forex swap, his business empire was the only highly successful survivor from the economic tsunami. Later, he saw and took the opportunity to get into PM office by setting up highly marketed (and highly vote-buying) Thai Rak Thai party (TRT) to claim the upturn of the nation's economy in 2001 to be his personal's success.
Despite of 1997 constitution, instead of the integrity, the supposed-to-be-independent institutes have definitely prooved their weaknesses and loopholes against influential connections, tempting bribery, and formidable threats during Thaksin regime. Criminals went loose. Thaksin, though got caught hiding his assets, was laundered by bribing constitution court judeges before taking the PM office.
From 2001 during Thaksin's PM office, Thai media were repressed either directly or indirectly, not to present adversity on Thaksin's regime whereas Thaksin proceeded with both populistic materialism, advocating high borrowing, high spending society, and high subsidizing of the poors. High level corruptions were smoothly covered up at the expense of the nation's interests.
From the begining of 2006, People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD)led by Sondhi Limthongkul, a media group owner, organized a huge rally in Bangkok with a majority of middle class people, protesting Thaksin's selling Shin Corp's shares for 2 billion USD to Singapore Company, Temasek, without paying tax. More corruption allegatoins involving Shin Corp, rubber shoots projects, privatization of state enterprises and tax frauds also surfaced as rally went on.
Thaksin was unable to clarify those serious allegations and tried to launder himself with a dissolution of the House of Representatives because he was so confident with his strong connections and his financial influence upon voters in the rural areas. Thaksin and his TRT party together with the bribed election committee conspired several electoral frauds in the south of Thailand. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the election was invalid. While waiting for the new up-coming election, a Thaksin supporting and agitated mob from the rural area was gathering in Bangkok with a vicious plan to brutally attack PAD protestors. That was also Thaksin's conspiracy for military people on his side to step in and stage a coup to launder all of the allegations. However, the army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin managed to get the victorious flag first on September,19, 2006 when Thaksin was away in New York.
PR help for Thaksin
The public relations company, Edelman, confirmed in January 2007 that its Washington and Hong Kong offices are handling media relations for Thaksin. "We are supporting him as a private citizen in his efforts to return back to his home country," said Alan VanderMolen from Edelman Asia-Pacific. While Thaksin was popular in rural areas, he was also noted for suppressing critical media and the brutal military response to increasing violence in the largely Muslim south of the country. 
In December 2007, the Sunday Times (UK) reported that Bell Pottinger was working for Shinawatra. "Our meeting was set up by the London public-relations firm Bell Pottinger," wrote reporter Andrew Marshall. "Its corporate motto is 'Better reputations', although Thaksin is happy enough with his. He boasts about being 'very aggressive' in business and politics. 'When you attack me, I attack back,' he warns me." 
Thaksin in Exile
While Thailand had an interim government from October 2006 to Jan 2008, constitution judges ruled under 1997 constitution that Thaksin and his political party TRT (Thai Rak Thai) as well as other 110 directors were unanimously penalized by constitution judges to be disbanded from politics for five years (because of the past electoral frauds in April 2006). Numerous investigations by a special body called Assets Examination Committee led to more than a dozen criminal charges against Thaksin and his family members as well as Thaksin's cabinet in various courts of justice.
A new 2007 constitution was also drafted and approved by a national referendum. The 2007 constitution following Thaksin's deposition, was particularly designed to be more tighter in control of corruptions and conflicts of interests of politicians whereas decrease the authority of the government.
The military-backed government dissolved after the national general election was held by 2007 year's end. In January 2008, a proxy political party subsidized by Thaksin's funding by the name of People's Power Party (PPP) got the majority in the House of Representative formed a coalition government led by Samak Sundaravej who admitted being a proxy of Thaksin.
Thaksin's First Return
Thaksin sent his wife back to Thailand in February 2008 to probe the response. Some months later when he felt comfortable for he has a proxy government who has the authority over the police and the attorney general on his side. He declared that Thailand would give him justice and came back to stand trials on numerous corruption charges. Three of his leading lawyers were later caught red-hand bribing the Supreme Court, politicians criminal division. They were sentenced straight to jail. In August 2008, the criminal court found Thaksin's wife, Potjaman Shinawatra guilty of tax evaions and frauds and sentenced a 3-year jail. Three days after the sentencing, Shinawatra family jumped the bails to flee to seek asylum in UK. Thaksin remains claiming his innocence and unjust judiciary system in Thailand while still pulling strings upon the on-sale politicians.
PM Samak, his proxy, was later disqualified by a constitution court ruling a conflict of interest and sufferred another appeal court's jail sentence because of past libels. PPP managed to continue with Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, becoming the next proxy PM.
- Andrew Marshall, "Thaksin Shinawatra, shooting to win: Manchester City fans regard him as their saviour - but Thai investigators believe they can prove his government was responsible for a shoot-to-kill policy that endorsed mass murder," The Sunday Times (UK), December 5, 2007.
Profiles of Thaksin
- John Aglionby, "Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra", Guardian Unlimited, September 19, 2006.
- Peter Popham, "Thaksin Shinawatra: The last chance Thai tycoon: Ex-prime ministers don't come more colourful than Thaksin Shinawatra. The billionaire politician was ousted in Thailand last year - but he can't stop making headlines," The Independent (UK), May 26, 2007.
- "How and Why Thai Protesters Fought Elected PM Thaksin Shinawatra" People's Alliance for Democracy Thailand August 2008.
- "Edelman takes Thaksin assignment", PR Week, January 19, 2007. (sub req'd).
- "PR deals cast doubt on Thaksin's real intent", The Nation (Thailand), January 25, 2007.
- "Spindler company terminates affiliation with Edelman PR", The Nation (Thailand), January 29, 2007.
- "Democrats: Why did Thaksin hire firm?", The Nation (Thailand), February 7, 2007.
- Thanong Khanthong, "Somkid an unlikely ally for Surayud in bid to discredit ex-PM", The Nation (Thailand), February 16, 2007.
- David Quainton, "Thaksin brings in Bell Pottinger", PR Week, May 15, 2008.
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