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Thailand: Overview of the political situation (2006-2008)

Publisher Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 12 January 2009
Citation / Document Symbol THA102989.E
Cite as Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Thailand: Overview of the political situation (2006-2008), 12 January 2009, THA102989.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49913b5e42.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Thailand's military forces deposed the country's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006 in a "bloodless" coup d'état (AFP 19 Sept. 2006; HRW 19 Sept. 2006; BBC 22 Oct. 2008). According to Amnesty International (AI), the coup was preceded by months of demonstrations that "condemned alleged widespread financial irregularities during his administration" (2007). The opposition parties had boycotted "snap" elections in April 2006, which Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party won (BBC 22 Oct. 2008). In May 2006, these results were overturned by the Constitutional Court due to "electoral irregularities and improper intrusion by political groups allied with the Thaksin party" (HRW 19 Sept. 2006; AI 2007; see also AsiaMedia 19 Feb. 2007).

Following the coup, military leaders instituted martial law (AI 2007; US 6 Mar. 2007; CNN 20 Sept. 2006). They also suspended the constitution and legislative bodies (HRW 19 Sept. 2006; AsiaMedia 19 Feb. 2007), and replaced the Constitutional Court "with an appointed military tribunal" (Freedom House 2007; see also AHRC 6 Oct. 2006). According to the United States (US) Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006, though the judiciary was considered independent, "it was subject to corruption and outside influences" (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec.1e). On its website, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) states that "army officials have enormous powers to stop demonstrations, close roads, censor news, search people and places ... , arrest and detain people, and give orders to the bureaucracy and judiciary, as if the country was at war" (19 Jan. 2007).

On 26 January 2007, martial law was lifted in Bangkok and 41 of Thailand's 76 provinces (BBC 26 Jan. 2007; see also US 11 Mar. 2008). According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the defence minister Boonrawd Somtat stated in November 2006 that the remaining provinces under martial law, those in northern and border provinces, pose "'domestic and foreign security concerns, as well as concerns about drug smuggling and illegal immigration'" (26 Jan. 2007).

On 1 October 2006, the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR), led by coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, became the Council for National Security (CNS) and appointed Surayud Chulanont as prime minister (AsiaMedia 19 Feb. 2007; see also AI 2007). According to media sources, Surayud Chulanont was a retired general at the time of appointment (BBC 22 Oct. 2008; Reuters 28 Feb. 2008). On the same day, the CNS also published an interim constitution (US 6 Mar. 2007; Thailand 1 Oct. 2006), which was reportedly "criticized for its omission of many democratic protections" (Freedom House 2007). According to the AHRC, the interim constitution "secures the power of the coup group ... [and] gives the remodelled junta authority of appointment and decision making over the heads of any new government" (4 Oct. 2006). However, according to the US Department of State, "[l]egal experts maintained that the interim constitution incorporates by reference all of the protections contained in the 1997 constitution" (6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1c).

The interim constitution includes the procedures for drafting a new constitution and outlines the process of approval by means of a referendum (Thailand 1 Oct. 2006, Sec. 19-31). According to the BBC, a military-appointed committee approved the initial draft of a new constitution in April 2007 (22 Oct. 2008). Voters endorsed the new constitution in August 2007 (BBC 22 Oct. 2008; Reuters 28 Feb. 2008; US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 3).

On 30 May 2007, the Constitutional Tribunal dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party and banned 111 of its party members, including Thaksin, from political activity for five years (Reuters 28 Feb. 2008; US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 3; see also BBC 22 Oct. 2008). Parliamentary elections took place on 23 December 2007 (US 11 Mar. 2008; Reuters 28 Feb. 2008), and the "pro-Thaksin" People Power Party (PPP) won the most votes (ibid.; BBC 22 Oct. 2008). In January 2008, the PPP announced a six-party coalition government (Reuters 28 Feb. 2008; AFP 19 Jan. 2008). PPP leader Samak Sundaravej was sworn in as prime minister in February 2008 (BBC 22 Oct. 2008; Reuters 28 Feb. 2008).

According to a 27 August 2008 article published by the United Nations (UN) Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and approximately 10,000 supporters engaged in months of protest to force the PPP-led government from office. The PAD is reportedly a movement involving those who align themselves with conservative factions of the monarchy and oppose Thaksin and Thaksin supporters in government (UN 27 Aug. 2008; see also The Guardian 3 Sept. 2008). According to The Guardian, the PAD was also involved in the 2006 protests that precipitated Thaksin's deposition (3 Sept. 2008). On 1 September 2008, after a week of "pro- and anti-government" mass protests, Prime Minister Samak Sundarajev declared a state of emergency in Bangkok (BBC 12 Sept. 2008; see also Reuters 1 Sept. 2008). The Prime Minister's declaration came hours after violent protests left one person dead and numerous people injured (The Guardian 3 Sept. 2008; The New York Times 1 Sept. 2008).

In September 2008, the Constitutional Court dismissed Samak Sundarajev for "accepting compensation for a second job" because he hosted two cooking shows while serving as prime minister (Time 17 Sept. 2008; BBC 22 Oct. 2008). On 17 September 2008, parliament elected Somchai Wongsawat of the PPP as prime minister (Time 17 Sept. 2008; see also BBC 22 Oct. 2008), who ended the state of emergency (Time 17 Sept. 2008). According to an article in Time, Somchai Wongsawat's marriage to Thaksin Shinawatra's sister "makes him unacceptable to the PAD"; a PAD leader reportedly stated that "the Government House siege would continue until a Prime Minister who's not from the PPP is named" (17 Sept. 2008).

On 25 November 2008, the PAD seized the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in an attempt to oust Somchai Wongsawat (Xinhua News Agency 3 Dec. 2008). On 2 December 2008, PAD protests ceased when the Constitutional Court ruled to disband the PPP for electoral fraud (ibid.; AFP 17 Dec. 2008), along with two other parties in the ruling coalition (AP 3 Dec. 2008). By mid-December, Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party had won a parliamentary vote to become Thailand's prime minister (AFP 17 Dec. 2008). According to Agence France-Presse, Thaksin supporters are expected to protest his appointment (17 Dec. 2008). Additionally, prime minister Abhisit has received criticism for his cabinet appointments, since they include members who previously supported Thaksin and defected to the Democrat Party, as well as for including an open supporter of the PAD and their airport seizure, foreign minister Kasit Piromya (BBC 22 Dec. 2008).

Southern Conflict

According to an International Crisis Group policy briefing, "the religious, racial and linguistic differences between the minority Malay Muslims and the Buddhist majority in Thailand have led to a deep sense of alienation" (28 Aug. 2008, 5). Many Malay Muslims feel like second-class citizens (International Crisis Group 28 Aug. 2008, 5). The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007 states that ethnic Malay "insurgents" are responsible for "hundreds of killings" in the southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, Yala and Songkhla (11 Mar. 2008). According to an 18 April 2007 Human Rights Watch (HRW) article, insurgents increased their attacks in the preceding month, burning schools, bombing markets and killing Buddhists as well as Muslims working with Thai authorities.

Country Reports 2007 states that the interim government made "conciliatory gestures towards southern ethnic Malay Muslims, including repeated statements that it intended to resolve the conflict peacefully" (US 11 Mar. 2008, Sec. 1g). However, the International Crisis Group policy briefing states that Malay Muslims have experienced "human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances," carried out by security forces (28 Aug. 2008, 5).

Since July 2005, emergency rule has been in place in the provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala (AFP 14 Oct. 2008; see also AI 2007). In October 2008, the state of emergency was extended to January 2009 (AFP 14 Oct. 2008). Several sources report that the state of emergency in the south inflames the violence and allows security forces to act with impunity (AHRC 4 June 2007; AFP 14 Oct. 2008; AI 2007). The Asia director for HRW is quoted as saying, "'the impunity of government forces has become the most common justification used by insurgents to carry out retaliatory attacks on civilians'" (18 Apr. 2007). In reference to the emergency decree in the southern provinces, AI reports that "scores of people were detained for 30 days without charge or trial ... , denied access to lawyers, and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation" (2007; see also US 11 Mar. 2008). However, the International Crisis Group provides an assessment of the violence in the south and reports that, since late 2007, the violence has diminished due to "restructuring" of military operations(28 Aug. 2008, 7).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France-Presse (AFP). 17 December 2008. Boonradom Chitradon. "New Thai PM Vows to Tackle Economic, Political Woes." (Factiva)
_____. 14 October 2008. "Emergency Rule Extended in Thailand's Restive South." (Factiva)
_____. 19 January 2008. "Thaksin Allies Unveil Coalition Government for Thailand." (Factiva)
_____. 19 September 2006. "The AFP World News Summary: Thailand – Coup." (Factiva)

Amnesty International (AI). 2007. "Thailand." Amnesty International Report 2007. [Accessed 30 Oct. 2008]

AsiaMedia. 19 February 2007. "First Coup in 15 Years Shakes Up the Country's Political, Media Landscape." (University of California, Los Angeles Asia Institute) [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). 4 June 2007. "Thailand: Extrajudicial Killing, Impunity, Emergency Regulations." [Accessed 7 Nov. 2008]
_____. 19 January 2007. "Update (Thailand): Four Months of Martial Law under Dictatorship; Emergency Rule in South to Continue." [Accessed 5 Nov. 2008]
_____. 6 October 2006. "Thailand: Military Coup – How to Make Courts Independent." (AS-238-2006) [Accessed 10 Nov. 2008]
_____. 4 October 2006. "Thailand: Military Coup – The Right Man for What Job?" (AS-232-2006) [Accessed 10 Nov. 2008]

Associated Press (AP). 3 December 2008. Denis D. Gray. "Thai Crisis Defused But Dangers Ahead." [Accessed 17 Dec. 2008]

Bangkok Post. 7 November 2008. Wassana Nanaum. "Political Stand-Off – Army Chief Offers to Aid Peace Talks." (Factiva)

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 22 December 2008. "Thai King Swears in New Cabinet." [Accessed 23 Dec. 2008]
_____. October 2008. "Timeline: Thailand." [Accessed 2 Nov. 2008]
_____. 12 September 2008. "Samak Out of Thai Leadership Race." [Accessed 20 Oct. 2008]
_____. 26 January 2007. "Thailand Partly Lifts Martial Law." [Accessed 5 Nov. 2008]

Cable News Network (CNN). 20 September 2006. "The Insider's Guide to ... the Thai Coup." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]

Freedom House. 2007. "Thailand." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2008]

The Guardian [London]. 3 September 2008. Ian MacKinnon. "Thailand: State of Emergency Declared in Bangkok." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]

Human Rights Watch (HRW). 18 April 2007. "Thailand: Government-Backed Militias Enflame Violence." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]
_____. 19 September 2006. "Thailand: Coup Threatens Human Rights." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]

International Crisis Group. 28 August 2008. Thailand: Political Turmoil and the Southern Insurgency. (Asia Briefing No. 80) [Accessed 30 Oct. 2008]

The Nation [Bangkok]. 8 October 2008. "Political Crisis: Academics Back House Dissolution." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008]

The New York Times. 1 September 2008. Seth Mydans and Thomas Fuller. "One Killed in Thai Protests; Emergency is Declared." [Accessed 6 Nov. 2008]

Reuters. 1 September 2008. "Analysts' View – Thai PM Declares State of Emergency." (Factiva)
_____. 28 February 2008. "Timeline – Thailand Since 2006 Coup Ousted Thaksin." [Accessed 2 Nov. 2008]

Thai News Service. 5 November 2008. "Thailand: Thai Government Ready to Negotiate with PAD." (Factiva)

Thailand. 1 October 2006. Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim). [Accessed 31 Oct. 2008]

Time. 17 September 2008. Hannah Beech. "Thailand Elects New PM." [Accessed 29 Oct. 2008

United Nations (UN). 27 August 2008. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Thailand: Protests Against Thai Leader Intensify." [Accessed 31 Oct. 2008]

United States (US). 11 March 2008. Department of State. "Thailand." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2007. [Accessed 2 Nov. 2008]
_____. 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Thailand." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 31 Oct. 2008]

Xinhua News Agency. 3 December 2008. "First Flight to Land at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport as Protesters Hand Over." (Factiva)

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: Asia News Network, Asian Pacific Post [Vancouver], The Economist, European Country of Origin Information Network (ecoi.net), Minority Rights Group (MRG) International, Office of the Election Commission of Thailand, Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Organisation mondiale contre la torture (OMCT), World Politics Review (WPR), Xinhua News Agency.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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