Thailand. Thailand experienced a politically stormy year and its fragile democracy seemed seriously threatened.
The newly formed People’s Power (PPP) formed government at the end of January, a month after the parliamentary elections, together with five smaller parties. New Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a supporter of the overthrown Thaksin Shinawatra.
The royalist, military-friendly middle and upper class in Bangkok, whose demonstrations had helped provoke the military coup in 2006, dismissed Samak as a puppet to Thaksin. When the new government announced its intention to try to change the constitution the military had written, new protests erupted. The opponents, gathered in the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), camped outside Samak’s office and blocked important junctions in Bangkok’s street network.
While the conflict around the government was ongoing, Thaksin Shinawatra returned from his escape and was immediately brought to trial. He was prosecuted for having used his office to have his wife buy real estate at a reduced price.
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The political crisis had financial consequences. The prices fell steadily on the Bangkok stock exchange during the spring and investors’ confidence in the country decreased.
In July, the Foreign Minister resigned after the Constitutional Court ruled that he violated his powers by supporting Cambodia’s attempt to get a temple at the joint border of the countries included on the UN agency UNESCO World Heritage List. Thai nationalists took the opportunity to strike against the government by gathering at the temple and bringing forward old demands for a border adjustment. The demonstrations led for some time to tensions between the countries, both of which brought together military forces along the border.
In August, Thaksin and his wife were granted permission to travel to Beijing to attend the Olympic inauguration. From China, they announced that they did not intend to return. However, the corruption trial continued, and in October, Thaksin was sentenced in his absence to two years in prison.
The continued protests against the government hardened, and after severe riots in early September, state of emergency was issued in the capital. A few days later, the government met its bleak end when a court ordered Samak to resign because he illegally received money to participate in a cooking show on TV. When PPP appointed Thaksin’s brother-in-law Somchai Wongsawat as new prime minister, the protests increased in strength. Tens of thousands of PAD supporters occupied parts of the government office and forced the Cabinet to relocate its operations to premises at the disused Don Muang airport. In November, after several months of uninterrupted demonstrations, PAD occupied both Don Muang and the new Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The government now moved to the city of Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, while the country gradually closed to the outside world.
On December 2, the Constitutional Court ruled that PPP and two of its partners had been guilty of electoral fraud. All three parties dissolved and Somchai deposed. He and all other senior officials in the three parties were banned from political activity for five years.
The PPP immediately resurfaced in new form under the name Pheu Thai (For the Thais) and claimed to form a new government. There was a tug of war in Parliament over which party constellation could gather a majority. An alliance around the Democratic Party managed to gather the greatest support and the party’s leader Abhisit Vejjajiva took office as prime minister, the country’s fourth since the beginning of the year. However, the contradictions persisted, and Abhisit was forced to submit his government statement in the Foreign Ministry’s premises after PPP supporters had blocked the parliament building.
Protests escalate when constitutional amendments are rejected
Thousands of protesters drowned in the police headquarters in Bangkok in the evening in protest against the fact that more than 50 protesters were injured in clashes with the police a day earlier. Six of them were shot, it was unclear who fired the shots. The clashes were among the most violent since the protests began several months earlier. They were triggered when the protesters tried to march towards the parliament building where proposals for constitutional amendments were debated but rejected. Constitutional changes regarding, among other things, the role of the monarchy are among the basic requirements from the demonstrators. No police action is taken against those who took part in the color protest. The color was quickly painted over with white.
Asian countries form record trade cooperation
Fifteen countries in Asia and the Pacific region sign the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) trade agreement. The members are some of the world’s largest economies: China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the ten Southeast Asian Asian countries. Together, they account for almost a third of the world’s total GDP. The cooperation needs to be ratified by nine countries, of which six are ASEAN members, in order to enter into force. India participated for a long time in the negotiations, but chose to withdraw in 2019 due to concerns about the consequences for domestic production. The United States stands outside the RCEP, which has been seen as a Chinese response to the major US trade initiative TPP, which when Washington withdrew from 2017 was renamed the CPTPP.
The king speaks to the people in a tense Bangkok
Thousands of royalists gather outside the Royal Palace in Bangkok, where King Maha Vajiralongkorn speaks to the people. He sends his love to all Thais (including the protesters) and calls Thailand “the land of compromises”. King Vajiralongkorn spends most of his time in Germany but temporarily visits Thailand to attend a Buddhist ceremony and a memorial service for the king’s father Bhumibol. At the same time, the demonstrations in the capital continue for the government to resign and the monarchy to be reformed. Three leading protesters are taken to hospital with injuries sustained in a meeting with plainclothes police.
According to Countryaah reports, the population of Thailand in 2008 was 67,194,917, ranking number 19 in the world. The population growth rate was 0.540% yearly, and the population density was 131.5254 people per km2.