Why Thais Aren’t Allowed to Have the Prime Minister They Want

How It Works
May 7 2014 11:09 AM

History Repeats Itself in Thailand

145869468-red-shirt-demonstrator-looks-at-a-portrait-of-ousted
A demonstrator looks at a portrait of ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra and current Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a demonstration in front of Parliament House in Bangkok on June 7, 2012.

Photo by Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Since 2001, no party with one of the Shinawatra siblings at the top of the ballot has lost a Thai election. Older brother Thaskin was elected in 2001, re-elected in 2005, and won a snap poll in 2006 (though no other parties participated in that one.) After the military seized power in 2006, Thaksin’s allies won an election in 2007. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, a Shinawatra supporter, was removed from office a year later on the grounds that he had hosted a televised cooking show while in office. 

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

In 2011, with Thaksin living in exile due to corruption charges back home, his sister Yingluck won an election in 2011, becoming the country's first female prime minister. She was widely expected to win a snap election called in February, which was challenged by the opposition under the somewhat circular logic that voting could not be held in certain constituencies due to the opposition’s own protests.

Advertisement

Today, the country’s Constitutional Court ordered Yingluck removed from office—the third time since 2006 it has ousted a prime minister from the Shinawatras’ political movement—over the transfer of a civil servant to another post three years ago.

None of this is necessarily to defend the Shinawatras. Thaksin was a populist tycoon with an authoritarian streak who was accused of human rights abuses including extrajudicial killings and detentions during the country’s war on drugs. Yingluck was fairly transparently acting has his proxy by pushing an amnesty bill that would have allowed him to return to the country. A scheme to hoard rice to drive up global prices has been an economic disaster.

But it’s fairly apparent that any time Thai voters are asked, they vote Shinawatra—particularly in the country’s less developed north. But any time one of them or their allies gets into power, the judiciary and the military figure out a way to remove them. The opposition, whose supporters are drawn primarily from the urban middle class, are now advocating that the country’s electoral democracy be replaced with a vaguely defined “People’s Council.” If the Shinawatras are removed from power again, we could also see the return of massive and occasionally deadly street protests of years past.

In the Atlantic today, Shadi Hamid writes of the emergence of “illiberal democracy” in the Middle East following the Arab Spring: “democratically elected leaders using popular mandates to infringe upon basic liberties.”

Thaksin and Yingluck’s opponents, who include some of the country’s wealthiest families, would probably argue that they fit this bill. But at this point it’s clear that their base of support is broad enough, organized enough, and determined enough to see them in power that court orders aren’t going to make them go away.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.