Following the 1932 revolution that imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics had been dominated for a half century by a military and the bureaucratic elite. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of a long series of mostly bloodless coups.
Beginning with a brief experiment in democracy during the mid-1970s, civilian democratic political institutions slowly gained greater authority, culminating in 1988 when Chat Thai Party leader Chatichai Choonhavan assumed office as the country's first democratically elected prime minister in more than a decade. Three years later, in February 1991, yet another bloodless coup ended his term.
Shortly afterward, the coup makers - who called themselves the National Peace-keeping Council - appointed Anand Panyarachun, a businessman and former diplomat, to head a largely civilian interim government. The military promised to hold elections in the near future.
However, following inconclusive elections, former army commander General Suchinda Kraprayoon was appointed prime minister. Many people were upset by Suchinda's decision to break his promise of not becoming a non-elected prime minister. Street protests were held in May 1992 demanding the general to step down. The military violently suppressed the demonstrations and scores of protesters were killed or maimed in the crackdown.
Suchinda resigned after a mediation by His Majesty the King. Anand Panyarachun once again was named interim prime minister and he served until new elections in September 1992.
In those elections, the political parties that had opposed the military in May 1992 won by a narrow majority, and Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai became prime minister at the head of a five-party coalition.
Chuan dissolved Parliament in May 1995, following the defection of the coalition Palang Dharma Party in the wake of a land scandal involving certain Democrat figures. The Chat Thai Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats in subsequent elections and its leader Banharn Silapa-archa became prime minister. But he held the office only little more than a year.
Following elections held in November 1996, New Aspiration Party leader General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh formed a coalition government and became prime minister. The onset of the Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government and forced him to hand over power to Chuan Leekpai in November 1997. Chuan formed a coalition government based on the themes of economic crisis management and institution of political reforms mandated by Thailand's 1997 constitution. It collapsed just days before its term was scheduled to end.
In the January 2001 elections, telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak Thai Party won an overwhelming victory on a populist platform of economic growth and development.
After absorbing several smaller parties, Thai Rak Thai gained an absolute majority in the House of Representatives, controlling 296 of 500 seats. In a Cabinet reshuffle of October 2002, the Thaksin administration further put its stamp on the government. A package of bureaucratic reform legislation created six new ministries in an effort to streamline the bureaucratic process and increase efficiency and accountability.
The general election held on February 6, 2005, resulted in another landslide victory for Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai, which now controlled 374 seats in Parliament's lower house.
The popularity of Thaksin's populist policies in rural areas and the publicity he received in the aftermath of the Great Indian Ocean Tsunami in December 2004, which occurred shortly before the election, were the keys to Thai Rak Thai's historic victory.
However, Thaksin proceeded to become the target of public protests that led to widespread calls for his resignation or impeachment. The discontent was caused by his family's tax-free sale of shares in the telecom giant Shin Corp to the Singaporean government's investment arm Temasek Holding.
Thaksin dissolved Parliament on February 24, 2006, and called a snap election for April 2, 2006. The election was widely boycotted by the opposition, leading to unopposed Thai Rak Thai candidates for 38 seats failing to get the necessary quorum of 20 per cent of eligible votes. As the 1997 constitution required that all seats be filled to open Parliament, this produced a constitutional crisis. After floating several suggestions, on April 4, 2006, Thaksin announced that he would step down as prime minister as soon as Parliament had selected a successor. The crisis was referred to the Supreme Court, which declared the election invalid. New elections were set for October 15, 2006. Until then, Thaksin would have remained as caretaker prime minister.
In the night of September 19, 2006, the military staged another bloodless coup d'etat. The coup makers, who called themselves the Council for Democratic Reform, were led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. They later became known as the Council for National Security. The 1997 Constitution was abrogated in the putsch, although most of the machinery of government remained intact.
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