Early History

Originally the Tai were an animist people in Southwest China, though not ethnically Chinese, and from the 9th century began to migrate southward, little by little, into parts of Southeast Asia and the fertile Chao Phraya valley. They settled down in an area that today is Burma, Laos and Thailand, and here they came into contact with other civilizations such as the Mon, Khmer and Lawa.

From the 7th to 14th century AD the Khmer established a mighty Kingdom based in Angkor, from where they expanded and would eventually rule over practically the whole of Indochina. They were already present in Thailand's most important basin during the Dvaravati period, where they mixed with the local Mon population. Whilst their conquests throughout the 7th to 11th centuries brought cultural influences in art, language and religion, their political dominance eventually overthrew the Dvaravati culture. They made Lopburi their central outpost and it soon became a religious centre. Throughout the region different small Kingdoms were founded but remained subject to the overwhelming power of the Khmer.

In 1238 the first independent Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai (dawn of happiness) was established in the northern part of the region, taken from the Khmer by the war lord Sri Intaratitya. In 1281 the more northerly Haripunchai was conquered, this time from the Mon by the armies of King Mengrai (fig.). It was made part of the northern realm of Lan Na (a million paddies), a Kingdom that flourished between the 13th and 14th century AD, with Chiang Mai as its centre. King Mengrai consolidated the power of the northern regions by making a pact (fig.) with two other rulers (fig.), King Ramkhamhaeng (fig.) of Sukhothai and King Ngam Meuang (fig.) of Phayao. In the 13th century Lopburi was wrested from the Khmer by the increasing power of Sukhothai to the North.

Thus, several city states grew and the Thais gradually became leaders of multiracial districts and vassal states. Their subjects were made tributary, worked in commission for the state, and had to fight in the wars of its Kings. In return they were given use of land, dispensation of justice, and the advantages of a community larger than the usual family or village. Sukhothai developed amongst several rival Thai Kingdoms into the most important power centre in the North. During the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng (1279-1298) absolute monarchy commenced, Theravada Buddhism introduced by Indian monks and missionaries from Sri Lanka was adopted as the official religion, and the first Thai script was created by the King based on Khmer script.

Sukhothai is still regarded as Thailand's first real Kingdom and capital, and the cradle of its civilisation. It would preserve this regional power status for almost a century until the city of Ayutthaya, founded in 1350 by prince Ramathibodi on an island in the Chao Phraya river as the capital of a new  southern Thai state, gained supremacy. After several incidental conflicts the Kingdom of Sukhothai was eventually overshadowed by this mighty rival from the south, which would soon make Sukhothai its vassal and finally place it under direct rule.

Ayutthaya also knew a period of foreign rule under the Khmer and Burmese. Only King Naresuan (fig.) would bring temporary relief from this. Burma had conquered Ayutthaya in 1569 and had made it into a vassal state, placing a Thai vassal King on the throne.

Born in 1555, as son to this King Maha Thammaracha and his principal wife, a daughter of King Chakkraphat, Naresuan was as a child taken into captivity to Burma to ensure loyalty from his father. In 1571 the Burmese King Bayinnaung allowed him to go home in exchange for his sister. In spite of the young age of 16 his father immediately sent him to the northern province Phitsanulok to rule the region. At the same time he was appointed successor to the throne of Ayutthaya (fig.). He finally became King in 1590 when his father died, and in 1593 he liberated Ayutthaya from the Burmese yoke when he defeated Minchit Sra, the Peguan-Burmese crown prince, in a duel on elephant back (fig.), fought in Nong Sarai near Suphanburi.

During the Ayutthaya period Buddhism was intertwined with countless aspects of animism and Brahmanism, partly due to the influence of the remaining Khmer culture, and thus became to date a mishmash of different gods and spirits. The Thai monarchs became absolute rulers and started to present themselves as the incarnation of a divine being, following the Indian-Brahmin example. This made the ‘god King’,  in contrast to the Kings of the Sukhothai period, a distant, inaccessible being who wielded unrestricted rule over his people. As Chao Chiwit (Lord of Life) the sovereign could accordingly decide over the life and death of his subjects.

Initial contacts with Europe were made in the beginning of the 16th century with Portugal and later with England and France. Although the population continued to call themselves Thai, the country started to become known by the name Siam, which is derived from Sanskrit and means ‘dark, a name given by the Khmer on the grounds of the dark complexion of the Thai. It remained the official name of the country until 1939.

After the Burmese conquered Ayutthaya in 1767 following a two year siege and battle in which they destroyed the city completely, General Taksin founded a new capital in Thonburi, then a vast swampy delta with the nicknamesea of mud’. Fled to Chanthaburi in the Southeast he raised an army and within the same year Taksin was able to recapture a large part of Central Siam. The Burmese were dispelled, reconstruction started, and the general crowned himself King. The King of Chiang Mai managed to dispel the Burmese from the largest part of North Thailand with the support of the Siamese, and the northern city states finally became vassals of Siam, that now began to consolidate its power. The control of the country was recovered and several northern states were merged and added to Central Siam.

In 1772 King Taksin appointed General Yotfa commander-in-chief of the Siamese army and after the latter conquered the Laotian town of Vientiane, he brought the Emerald Buddha back to Thonburi where it was temporary placed in Wat Arun. After King Taksin showed signs of megalomania he was expelled from office in 1782, by order of General Chakri after a smouldering struggle for power, and executed by the then prevailing protocol: beaten to death under a red satin cloth with a sandalwood club. Afterwards Chao Phraya Chakri took office as Yotfa, the first King of the Chakri dynasty (fig.), later named Rama I (fig.).

Chakri Dynasty

General Chao Phraya Chakri took office as Yotfa, the first King of the Chakri dynasty (fig.), later named Rama I (fig.), and made the Garuda the national emblem of the monarchy. As the mythological mount of the Indian god Vishnu, the protector and second god in Hindu theology of which Rama is an incarnation, it reflects the position of the Thai monarch as the protector of the nation.

In 1809 King Chakri's son ascended the throne and ruled until 1824. He was succeeded by Phra Nang Klao, the third King of the Chakri dynasty (fig.) who introduced the use of crown titles for the Kings of the Chakri dynasty, taking the crown title of Rama III for himself, whilst bestowing the titles Rama I and Rama II posthumously upon his predecessors. The titles Rama and Chakri, derived from an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, indicates that the idea of divine descent continued to exist to a certain extent.

With the rule of Rama I both the Chakri dynasty and the Bangkok period began. The capital was moved from Thonburi to the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya river, where it was better secured against possible attacks from Burma. The Chakri dynasty still continues to the present day with King Bhumipon Adunyadet reigning since 1946 as Rama IX.

King Mongkut (fig.), half brother of Rama III, called Phra Chom Klao by the Thai, lived 27 years as a Buddhist monk before ascending the throne in 1851 as Rama IV (fig.). During his priesthood he studied Sanskrit, Pali, Latin and English, history and several western sciences, including astronomy. Interested by western ideas he modernised his realm and established diplomatic relations with the then Superpowers. To avoid colonisation commercial treaties were signed, though always with very favourable conditions for the West.

By presenting himself as a friend rather than a foe and approaching the Superpowers with gifts instead of weapons King Mongkut succeeded in averting an imminent colonisation, at least temporarily. Due to the establishment of several allies none of the Superpowers dared to attack or invade Siam for fear of a conflict with each other. The monarchy became once again more humane. The law forbidding subjects to look into the face of the King was done away with as well as the system of forced labour for the state. In 1868 Mongkut died of malaria. He had 82 children and 35 wives.

His eldest son Chulachomklao, in the West known as Chulalongkorn, continued the policies of his father. Educated by European private teachers he continued with reforms after the western model. Public schools were established and modernisation implemented, including the construction of a railway network. Under his rule slavery was abolished and a modern judicial and prison system was established. In this the King was assisted by his General Advisor Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns (fig.), a Belgian diplomat whose merit in 1898 availed him the title of Chao Phraya Aphai Raja, the highest noble title ever given to a foreign national. The custom of granting noble ranks to ordinary citizens was abolished after the rule of Chulalongkorn's successor Rama VI.

During the expansionist aims of the colonial Superpowers, Chulalongkorn was compelled under pressure of a possible military intervention to make more concessions and give up substantial parts of Siamese territory: the East of the Mae Khong was ceded to imperial France, whilst in the South the British laid claim to parts of the vassal states around Penang. That Siam was never colonised is owed to the reserved diplomacy of Siam and the fact that the British and French wanted to avoid conflict. Siam was a neutral buffer state between their colonies in Burma and Indochina. The colonial threat necessitated Rama V precisely demarcating the borders of his realm, forcing him to centralise administrative power and incorporate the still remaining smaller vassal states into Siamese territory.

With crown prince Wajirunhit's (fig.) untimely death in 1895 at the age of seventeen, his half-brother prince Wachirawut, eldest son of queen Saowapha, was appointed as the new successor to the throne by King Chulalongkorn, at the age of thirteen. After the death of Rama V, who left of 77 children (fig.), he ascended the throne in 1910 (fig.). As Rama VI he implemented even more reforms, especially in the field of education and administration. Educated in the West he introduced the use of surnames for his subjects and encouraged them to adopt more western ways, such as western clothing and hair style. He stimulated patriotism and promoted nationalism on a large scale. In 1917 he changed the Siamese flag  (a white elephant on a red field) by the present red-white-blue-white-red, horizontal striped banner, colours symbolising the nation (red), the monarchy (blue) and religion (white). His regime was rather extravagant and when he died in 1925 the treasury was empty.

During the rule of his successor Prajadhipok absolute monarchy came to an end. Because of the enormous breach his predecessor had made in the treasury the economy was stagnant. This in combination with the existence of an oligarchic system that excluded even the most brilliant civilians from higher posts eventually led to a coup d'état in 1932. A group of anti monarchist soldiers supporting the Western educated intellectual Pridi Phanomyong (fig.), seized power and introduced a constitutional monarchy. At this time Rama VII was diligently working on a new constitution that might have worked better than the so-called democratic system that was imposed by the leaders of the conspiracy. But in spite of this Rama VII  on 10 December 1932 signed the constitution that would bring an end to more than seven hundred years of absolute monarchy.

Before his execution King Taksin cursed General Chakri saying that his power would come to an end if Thonburi, the ancient capital under Taksin, would ever be connected with Rattanakosin, the part of town where King Chakri established his government. In 1932 a Memorial Bridge was built to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of the Chakri dynasty, connecting both places. When in the same year absolute monarchy came to an end, many saw this as a fulfillment of the Taksin curse.

Modern History

With the induction of the first Thai Constitution (fig.) in 1932, democracy existed in principal though there were still frequent coup d'états, in which Thailand was sometimes ruled for lengthy periods by military leaders and even dictators. One coup followed the other and in 1935 a disappointed King Prajadhipok eventually abdicated.

King Ananda, son of the brother of the childless King Prajadhipok, succeeded the abdicating Rama VII. He was however just ten years old and still at school in Switzerland, and it was not until after WW II that he would return to Siam as Rama VIII.

In 1946 some months after his return the young King was found shot dead in his bed, a mystery that was never officially resolved. He was succeeded by his younger brother, the present King Bhumipon Adunyadet, who wasn't formally crowned King until after his marriage with Sirikit Kitthiyagon, on 5 May 1950. He became Thailand's longest reigning King.

During the interregnum the Kingdom was ruled by a governmental council but also lived in the grip of military despots such as Phibun Songkram (fig.), who found his inspiration from leaders like Mussolini and Hitler. He became leader of the government on the brink of WW II, after a power struggle with Dr. Pridi Phanomyong. Whilst Field Marshal Phibun ruled the people with an iron fist, in 1939 he changed the name of Siam into Prathet Thai or Thailand (Land of the Free), then a contradiction in terms. In 1944 he was forced to step down having sided with Japan during WW II.

For a short while it seemed a democratic civil  regime would be installed, but due to the confusion that arose after the mysterious death of Rama VIII, the military once again seized power in the 1947 coup d'état, staged by Phibun Songkram and aimed at his political comeback. The coup was led by ambitious army officers, that included the likes of the corrupt and brutal Phao Sri Yanon (เผ่า ศรียานนท์). In 1948, the disgraced Phibun was restored with the help of Phao Sri Yanon, who soon after became Police General and staged a show trial in which three scapegoat members of the palace staff were found guilty of negligence in the death of King Ananda and were evetually executed.

By now Phibun's support had faded and already back in May 1950 attempts for a coup were made, on the quaysides along Phra Rachawang (fig.), the royal palace. The premier was taken hostage and abducted to a warship that lay at anchor on the Chao Phraya. After being released by his captors he swam ashore and the ship was bombed by the air force.

In 1955, the premier together with Phao started a new political party, named Seri Manang Khasilah (เสรีมนังคศิลา) and housed in Ban Manang Khasilah (fig.). Phao established the Atsawin Waen Phet, a secretive organization that resorted to extrajudicial killing, assassination and murder, in order to elliminate political opponents. Hence convinced of a landslide victory, Phibun in 1957 organized elections, but lost to the opposition. Hence, Phao rigged the Bangkok election to give Phibun a substantial lead over his chief opponent, but soon after Phibun was ousted by yet another coup and Phao Sri Yanon fled the country.

In 1957, General Sarit became the new leader. This charismatic dictator carried out many reforms and consolidated central government. In 1963 he died from a liver disorder. Senior military officers Thanom, Praphat and Narong took power and installed another dictatorial regime that would last for ten years. The infrastructure of the country developed but unemployment in the countryside took on dramatic proportions, causing many to migrate to the capital. In 1973, student demonstrations against the military regime resulted in carnage with many students killed (fig.). King Bhumipon intervened  in empathy with the rebellious population, opening the gates of the Chitralada Palace to fleeing protesters and calling for calm in a televised speach. The King held an audience with student leaders and a democratic coalition government was installed with Sanya Dharmasakti, the rector of the Thammasat University, as the new Prime Minister, appointed by the King. Thanom and Praphat both fled the country.

The following three years became a period of reformation, called the Democratic Experiment, Unions and political parties were formed, and corruption was openly denounced. Then in October 1976 Thanom and Praphat returned and again there were extensive demonstrations. Forty-six students at Thammasat University were killed and two hundred injured in a massacre by rightwing factions, such as the Khabuankaan Krathing Daeng, who forced their way onto campus angered over a puppet hung up by students which resembled crown prince Wachiralongkorn. Martial law was declared and a military junta took over. Thousands of students fled the capital after 6 October 1976 and joined the subversive CPT, the Communist Party of Thailand, in the jungle. Another two coups followed and later, under the rule of General Kriangsak Chomanan, more room was created for democracy. In 1980 he was forced to step down and was succeeded by Prem Tinasulanonda, the supreme commander of the army. Under his rule the domestic communist threat was ended and the economy experienced strong growth.

In 1988 the helm was taken over by Chatichai Choonhavan, the first democratically elected premier. The economy kept growing, but the influence of the military in political affairs declined, resulting in another coup in February 1991, this time under leadership of General Suchinda Kraprayoon. The military installed a government with Ananda Panyarachun as the new premier. On 22 March 1992 new elections saw a victory for the pro-army parties and Narong Wongwan became the new premier. But amidst accusations of Narong's involvement in the Thai drug trade the military used its constitutional prerogative to replace him. On May fifth the popular opposition leader Major General Chamlong Srimuang of the Palang Dharma Party began a hunger strike in protest against General Suchinda Kraprayoon, who in spite of all promises to the contrary became premier in April. Although Chamlong stopped his action a few days later, protest against Suchinda continued. When a massive crowd of protesters marched towards government buildings the army intervened and opened fire on the crowd. About fifty people lost their lives and hundreds of opposition leaders, including Chamlong, were arrested. A day later protesters clashed again with the army when it fired on an estimated 35,000 or so demonstrators. About two thousand protesters entrenched themselves in the Hotel Royal and were brutally removed and arrested.

Thai Constitution

Breakthrough finally came following the intervention of King Bhumipon. All protesters, including Chamlong, were released and Suchinda and Chamlong were received together by the King, who charged them to find a solution to this political crisis. General Suchinda was reprimanded for he had failed to find a peaceful solution to a political problem. After King Bhumipon promised amnesty to all parties involved, Suchinda resigned as premier on May 24 and on June 10 the King appointed Ananda Panyarachun again to premier, this time ad interim. Four months later, on 13 September, new parliamentary elections took place this time with great gain for the anti-military parties, who secured 185 of the 360 seats in total, enough to form a government, and Chuan Leekpai, leader of the Democrat Party, became Prime Minister at the head of a five-party coalition.

On 20 May 1995, Chamlong Srimuang, the deputy Prime Minister and head of the Palang Dharma Party, announced his party's withdrawal from the coalition, amid a land-reform scandal implicating a Democrat MP. Following the defection of this coalition partner, Chuan Leekpai was forced to dissolve Parliament. In the subsequent election, which was were marred by allegations of vote-buying, the Chart Thai Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats, and on 13 July 1995, its party leader Banharn Silpa-archa, commonly known as Little Big Man, became the 29th Prime Minister and named Palang Dharma Party MP Thaksin Shinawat deputy Prime Minister in the new government, after Thaksin reduced his stake in his monopolistic telecommunications company when he made a profit of around a billion baht less than two months earlier, a move that enabled him to pursue a political career, as the Constitution forbids MPs and cabinet members to have contracts of a monopolistic nature with the State.

Little Big Man, also nicknamed Mr. ATM for allegedly dispensing dirty money under the table, was involved in numerous corruption scandals, one of which weakened the harmony in his administration. Threatened with defections from his coalition government, he was forced to resign, after only little more than a year in office. His short-lived, yet highly incompetent administration, is believed to have paved the way for the economic crisis that started that very next year. New elections were held amidst allegations of vote-buying and electoral fraud, and on  11 November 1996, long-time political operator General Chavalit Youngchaiyudh, emerged as the victor from hotly contested elections, which were rated the dirtiest and most violent since 1976, and in which five people were killed.

The onset of the 1997 Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government, after it devalued the Thai baht, which was then pegged to the U.S. dollar. The nation's currency swiftly weakened and lost more than half of its value, causing the Thai stock market to drop 75% and triggering the worst economic downturn in the nation's history, in which massive numbers of people were laid off, especially in the financial sector, real estate and construction. On 8 November 1997 Chavalit resigned from the post, handing over power to Chuan Leekpai, who formed a new coalition government, which enacted several economic reforms and held office throughout the following years, until the beginning of 2001, when it collapsed just days before its term was scheduled to end.

The necessary, but unpopular austerity measures taken during the financial crisis by the second Chuan Leekpai government, helped pave the way for the political comeback of the populist telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawat, an ambitious MP and former police officer, foreign minister, and deputy Prime Minister, who on 14 July 1998 founded his own political party Thai Rak Thai (TRT), which soon presented itself as a new force in Thai politics to be reckoned with. Aimed at the involvement of young blood politicians and public participation, and a populist platform of economic growth and development, the popularity of the self-made billionaire and his party steadily rose, despite allegations of conflict-of-interest during his former term in office, for which he had been forced to resign.

In his bid to become the next Prime Minster, the strong contender and rising political star in May 2000 bought a major stake in the independent television channel iTV, through his company Shin Corp. This sparked concerns of political interference and fears that Thaksin would dominate the television station and exploit it for political gain. In September of the same year, the National Counter-Corruption Commission investigated allegations that Thaksin concealed his wealth in 1997 while he was deputy Prime Minister and discovered that he allegedly transferred shares worth millions of baht to several of his employees, including the housekeeper, driver, maid, and a guard. Thai law requires any politician taking office to report all assets they control, anywhere in the world, whether in their name or not, which is then compared with the politician’s wealth upon vacating office, to determine if there has been an unusual net increase in wealth during their term in office. Thaksin narrowly escaped conviction in the Constitutional Court by 8 to 7, though a decade later, a Supreme Court ruling in another case accepted a possibility of bribery in the asset concealment case. In December 2000, the increasingly powerful politician was again under investigation, now for allegedly laundering money through stock market share sales to a foreign firm in the British Virgin Islands.

In national elections held on 6 January 2001, the Thai Rak Thai party won an overwhelming victory, with 248 seats out of 500, and Thaksin became Prime Minster, forming a coalition government with the New Aspiration party. The coalition gave Thaksin control of more than 320 seats, enough to prevent a no-confidence motion against him. The Poll-watch Foundation reported several cases of alleged poll fraud and vote buying, and disqualified at least seven candidates, of which five from Thai Rak Thai and one from New Aspiration.

Promising a new political era, many reforms were speedily initiated, creating new ministries and introducing a corporate-style approach, in which ministers were expected to act like CEOs (Chief Executive Officers). Thaksin's regime quickly became rather authoritarian, increasingly focusing on his personality through dominating news coverage and becoming a media star. On 3 March 2001, a Thai Airways plane bound for Chiang Mai from Bangkok's Don Meuang Airport, was destroyed by an explosion and fire that occurred just minutes before Thaksin was to board. Five members of the cabin crew were aboard and one was killed. Speculations of an assassination attempt on Thaksin surged, but were quickly abandoned when no traces of explosive were found, though investigators were never able to determine the exact cause for the explosion.

Thaksin's government introduced a range of partly effective policies to alleviate rural poverty, including debt relief for farmers still suffering from the financial crisis, and launched the country's first universal healthcare program, as well as a highly controversial drug suppression campaign, in which an estimated 3,000 people were killed, often in alleged extra-juridical executions by police. Focusing on social scourges, the government declared earlier closing times for entertainment venues such as bars and nightclubs, whilst generally trying to model Thai society after that of Singapore, admiring its order, prosperity and cleanliness, but also its state model.

Thaksin became the country's first  Prime Minister to serve a full four-year term, but by the time of new general elections on 6 February 2005, he had lost much of his support with the urban middle class and had come under severe criticism for corruption and abuse of power. Though his reputation was tainted, he still had the grassroots support of the rural electorate, and the poll resulted in another landslide victory for Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai party, claiming 350 constituency and party-list seats in the 500-member parliament, able to form a single-party government. However, the Election Commission said there had been widespread vote buying and the leader of the Mahachon Party claimed that the ruling party had warned voters in the North and Northeast, that they would not receive development funds if they did not support the party.

Prompted by the alarming election results, the leaders of the Mahachon Party and Democratic Party stepped down, paving the way for the young and charismatic Abhisit Vejjajiva to assume responsibility as leader of the Democrat Party. Abhisit is born in Newcastle (England) and studied in Eton and Oxford, where he gained a bachelor degree in philosophy, politics and economics, with first class honours, and a master degree in economics. He entered politics as a candidate for the Democrat Party in the general elections that followed the 1991 coup, becoming a Bangkok MP.

Encouraged by his electoral victory and new mandate, Thaksin now became ever more conceited, especially with the press. Reluctant to accept any comments of his critics, he deflected questions of reporters and lashed out to anyone who opposed his ideas. Irritated by his authoritarianism and dismayed by his manipulation and overall grip on the press, reporters led by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul started to speak out against Thaksin's autocratic rule and the government's attempts to muzzle the press. The criticism escalated in law suits from both sides and thousands, including some prominent public figures who initially backed Thaksin, now started to join in with this anti-Thaksin pressure group.

The political divisions sharpened and when on 23 January 2006 the Shinawat family sold its stake in Shin Corp to Temasek, an investment company owned by the government of Singapore, for about 73 billion baht without paying any tax, it enraged his critics and caused a public outcry. On 4 February, an estimated 50,000 people descended on Royal Plaza, to call for the resignation of Thaksin. The protest was organized by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and teamed up with political activists and other disgruntled groups to form the PAD, the People's Alliance for Democracy, otherwise known as the Yellow Shirts, the colour of their shirts and of Monday, the King's birthday, thus suggesting their support for the Monarchy. In mid-February, Chamlong Srimuang, leader of the politicized Santi Asoke sect of Buddhism and a former ally of Thaksin, also turned against him and joined the protests.

Unwilling to give in to the demands of the demonstrators, caretaker Prim Minister Thaksin dissolved the House of Representatives and called for a snap election, hoping to return with a new mandate from his electorate that would help him crush his opponents. The poll was boycotted by three opposition parties, that claimed it was rushed and designed to distract from corruption allegations. Thus, despite of wining the 2 April election, more than 100,000 people rallied to call upon the King to ignore the polls and appoint a new, interim leadership, something the King declined to do, yet on 4 April Thaksin announced that he would step down as Prime Minister and resign from politics, as soon as parliament had selected a successor.

The following month, on 8 May, the Constitution Court nullified the April 2 elections, in a bid to end the political impasse, ruling that the election was unconstitutional because it was held too soon after the House of Representatives was dissolved, and that this would put smaller parties at a disadvantage. This controversial ruling came after the King had called on the courts to intervene and execute their duties justly, saying that it was impossible for a democratic election to have only one party, one man.

On 24 August, there was an assassination attempt on Thaksin, who immediately fired General Panlop Pinmanee, the deputy chief of Internal Security Operations, suspecting he was part of an alleged plot to kill him. The General denied any involvement saying that if he would have been behind it, he would not have missed.

Mounting street protests and tensions eventually came to a head in September, when on the evening of the 19th the military, led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, seized power and ousted Thaksin in a coup d'état and abrogated the Constitution, only weeks before new elections were scheduled. The move allegedly came after the Army had learned of a suspected conspiracy to provoke a violent clash to brutally end the month-long PAD protests, and was launched while Thaksin was in New York for a meeting at the United Nations. Small mobs of anti-PAD militants in support of, and allegedly paid by, Thaksin had previously attacked and beaten PAD protesters, and the atmosphere had become ever more tense. The staged bloodless coup was purportedly aimed to prevent more violence.

An interim constitution was established, which specified a process for drafting a new permanent constitution, and a month after the coup, an interim civilian government was formed. Though Abhisit, the leader of the Democratic Party, had prior to the events voiced his disapproval of the coup, saying that the party did not support any kind of extra-constitutional change, now promised the junta-appointed premier, Surayud Chulanont, his full support as a way forward for the country, but did ask the coup leaders to quickly return power to the people.

Though on the surface political calm seemed to return to normal, an organized underground movement now started to oppose the interim government, resulting in terrorist activities in which numerous schools in rural areas were burned and bombs were planted. On New Year's Eve 2006, several bombs went off and grenades were thrown at pedestrians from flyovers in numerous locations around Bangkok, killing and injuring a number of people, besides some that had failed to detonate.

Following allegation of Thaksin's corruption and abuse of power the draft for the new permanent constitution was particularly designed to tighten control over corruption and conflicts-of-interest of politicians, decreasing their power. In a national referendum called by the military junta on 19 August 2007, the majority of the voters accepted the new permanent constitution, after the draft was a month earlier unanimously approved by the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly. With the constitutional changes done, the way was paved for a new general election, which was finally held on 23 December 2007, sixteen months after the coup.

Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court had in May unanimously dissolved the populist Thai Rak Thai party, following a punishment according to the 1997 Constitution, and had banned 111 of its executives from politics for five years for election fraud. Evidence showed that TRT had hired smaller parties to field candidates to run in the 2 April 2006, so that it could avoid the requirement of having to win 20% of eligible votes. Though still enjoying strong support from their rural electorate, a proxy party for Thai Rak Thai was formed, called People Power Party (PPP) and led by former Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej, a Thaksin loyalist. In the elections of 23 December 2007, the People Power Party, won the majority of votes and Samak was elected Prime Minister of the first government under the 2007 constitution. Yet, with insufficient seats, he was forced to form a coalition government with five minor parties.

After his victory, Samak openly acknowledged of being Thaksin's nominee and held daily national state television broadcasts with his own political messages, which were ill received by his opponents. In one televised interview with Al Jazeera, Samak set off a firestorm with his answers about his role in the 1976 massacre of students at the Thammasat University, when he was interior minister, claiming that only one unfortunate person was killed in the incident (whereas the official number is 46 and it is widely believed that the actual number killed is much higher). In February 2008, Samak offered Thaksin, who since the coup remained in self-imposed exile, to come back to Thailand and get close control of the People Power Party, personally guaranteeing his safety. Encouraged by his allies now in power, Thaksin returned to Thailand on 28 February 2008 to face corruption charges, presuming that the courts would rule in his favour, as he claimed that all the accusations against him were politically motivated.

In March, Thaksin appeared before the Supreme Court in one of his two criminal corruption cases. He pleaded not guilty and was ordered to report back at a later date. In the meantime he was allowed to leave the country. When in May the ruling party decided to amend the constitution, aimed at paving the way for Thaksin's reinstatement and saving the PPP from dissolution after one of its leading members was charged with electoral fraud, it fueled its opponents anger even more. Fearing for a political amnesty for Thaksin, the PAD (Yellow Shirts) movement resumed their street protests in a bid to block any constitutional amendment and Thaksin's feasible, even behind the scene, return to power. In August thousands of anti-government protestors stormed Government House to force out the leadership.

While Samak had in part been successful in controlling the post-coup institutions, such as the police and civil service, the courts however, had always remained independent and on 9 September, the Constitutional Court unanimously disqualified Samak for premiership for violating Article 267 of the Constitution, when he received financial payments for hosting a television cooking program whilst in office. He was replaced by Somchai Wongsawat, the brother-in-law of Thaksin.

With Thaksin's allies still in power, the anti-government protests by the PAD continued unabated, and with it rose to the pro-government support of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), which was formed in 2006 to oppose the military coup and the military junta, and whose mebers are dressed in red shirts, the colour that in the national flag represents the nation or the people. They had  stopped their protests after the electoral win of the PPP, but reorganized to counter the PAD. With both groups now in place clashes were inevitable and the protest became increasingly more violent. Occasional grenade attacks occurred aimed at PAD protestors on their rally site and on 7 October, two people were killed and over 300 wounded when police tried to clear PAD supporters from the are around Government House and Parliament.

Although having allowed Thaksin to travel abroad while on bail and whilst his corruption case was already set for trial, the Supreme Court on 21 October sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison, for abuse of power in a land purchase case. Now officially a convicted criminal who jumped bail, an international arrest warrant against Thaksin was issued. He allegedly applied for political asylum in Britain, but when the Thai chief prosecutor called on Britain to extradite him, he was blacklisted in many European countries and declared persona non grata. He left Britain and started to move about from country to country in his private jet.

On 28 November 2008, anti-government protestors of the PAD seeking the resignation of Prime Minster Somchai Wongsawat, shut down Suwannaphum International Airport, bringing all air travel to a standstill. The PAD, whose members consist of mostly urban middleclass, also sought to change the governing and electoral process that had empowered the rural masses, whom some see as poorly educated. On 2 December, the Constitutional Court disbanded the People Power Party after finding it guilty of fraud in the 2007 elections, disqualifying PM Somchai Wongsawat from office. Following the verdict, PAD leaders ordered their supporters to leave  the airport. The ruling set the stage for the Democtaric Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to become Prime Minister, not in the least because of the support of several MPs of the dissolved PPP party, who formed new parties, including Newin Chidchob, the former right-hand man of Thaksin.

Abhisit took office on 17 December 2008, but with the Democratic Party now in power, opposition to the government also changed camps, with Thaksin's loyalists vowing to oppose the administration and demanding the resignation of the newly sworn in premier, claiming that he was not elected by the people and did not have a valid mandate. Ex-party members of the PPP also regrouped to form the Pheua Thai Party and PPP leader Samak Sundaravej would less than a year later die of liver cancer.

Thaksin, who continued to travel internationally, despite a warrant for his arrest and extradition efforts, also persisted in stirring up the situation with a series of video satellite addresses to swelling crowds of UDD protestors, in which he called for them to continue the fight and the overthrow of the government. On 11 April 2009, thousands of UDD protestors besieged the ASEAN summit held at the Royal Cliff Resort in Pattaya, causing it to be abandoned and world leaders to be airlifted to safety, whilst police stood largely idle by. The following day the Red Shirt protestors descended on Bangkok, where mobs blocked the entrances of the Criminal Court, demanding the release of their leaders who were arrested during the Pattaya protest. The protest became fiercer and protestors clashed violently with armed troops and riot police, causing havoc and setting public busses alight whilst steering them into the front lines of government troops, as makeshift projectile fire bombs, whilst also threatening to blow up liquid gas trucks that they stole and parked on strategic places in the middle of Bangkok roads and bridges. The Red Shirts also clashed with local citizens as they attempted to storm their living area, leaving two people living in the area killed. Supporting protests were held in other provinces, and imitating the strategies of the Yellow Shirts, major roads and railway lines were blocked. On 14 April, thousands of soldiers moved through the areas of the Bangkok were the Red Shirts had gathered, shooting paper bullets into the air to disperse the crowds. Rally leaders told everyone to return home and the protests ended with relatively little bloodshed, though two people had died by the hands of Red Shirts and more than a hundred were injured in the clashes. Some protest leaders were arrested, but most were later released on bail.

Three days later, on 17 April, Sondhi Limthongkul, a PAD leader of the Yellow Shirts, was ambushed by gunmen, who riddled his car with 84 bullets from AK47 and M16 automatic riffles, injuring him, a close aid, and his driver. Doctors removed shrapnel from his temple and he was released from hospital a week later.

In the wake of the Songkraan protests, the government revoked Thaksin's passport for instigating the violence and his alleged role as bankroller for the UDD. On 26 February 2010, the Supreme Court seized 46 billion baht of his frozen assets, after finding him guilty of abnormal wealth. The next day, tensions were raised again as M67 grenades were thrown at three branches of the Bangkok Bank.

In part angered by the seizure of Thaksin's funds, UDD protesters in early March converged on Bangkok to press demands for Abhisit to call new elections. The protesters occupied parts of Bangkok, vowing to stay until their demands were met. In a show of their willingness to shed their own blood, the Red Shirts collected human blood from amongst their peer and poured it on the fence and entrance gate of the Prime Minister's private home.

The situation escalated further on 10 April 2010, when protesters took control of a TV broadcasting station and kidnapped the station's director. When the military tried to break up the protesters' rally site near the Phan Fah Bridge and Rajdumnoen Road, violent clashes broke out, resulting in 26 people being killed, including 5 soldiers, and over 800 injured, on both sides. Fatalities also included a Japanese cameraman for Reuters. CCTV footage later showed that there seemed to be a third party militia involved, dressed in black and carrying weapons that were not part of the Army's arsenal. The UDD leadership insisted that their protestors were unarmed, though many of the Red Shirts arrested were found in the possession of weapons, including grenades and rocket launchers. This third party was suspected to be the Red Shirt's own militia, under the leadership of a suspended former general named Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known by the nickname Seht Daeng, i.e. the Red Commander, who purportedly was behind much of the violence.

After the clashes at the Phan Fah Bridge, the violence also spread to other parts of the city, but eventually the UDD regrouped and moved the focus of their rally to Rachaprasong, adjacent to Lumphini Park and in front of the Chulalongkorn Hospital, opposite the financial district on Silom Road, where they entrenched themselves behind a makeshift barricade of tiers and bamboo sticks. This move brought them closer to their rally stage, the main centre of the gathering, in front of Central World Shopping Centre. From their new position, they threatened to invade also Silom Road and bring life in the financial district to a halt. This prompted local residents and business owners to come out in large numbers and counter the Red Shirts by peaceful means, calling slogans and calling on the Red Shirts to return home. With the mere intention to protect their businesses and homes, they did not want to take a political stance, thus calling themselves the Multi-colour Shirts, distancing themselves from both Red Shirt and Yellow Shirt protestors.

However, the peaceful protest of the Multi-colour Shirts was met with violence when five M79 grenades were fired from the Red Shirt encampment into the unarmed crowd at Sala Daeng, killing one and injuring more than 80, whilst the army stood idle by. The inaction of the army was often related to the fact that some of the drafted soldiers actually sympathized with the UDD. These individuals became known by the nickname taeng moh, meaning ‘watermelon’, i.e. green on the outside (like the army), but red on the inside (like members of the UDD).

Instead of using this attack on civilians as an pretext to crack down on the Red Shirts, the government continued to drag its feet, letting things escalate further and over the following days more grenades were launched into police and army encampments, and drive-by shootings occurred in some instances.

Interestingly, each time the Red Commander had warned for or spoken of an imminent attack, it soon after happened, thus confirming suspicions about his involvement in the assaults. In fact, the day after he was suspended from the army by Army Commander Anupong Paochinda for breaching official disciplines, Anupong's office at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters was bombed by grenades launched from a M79 rocket launcher, which left the office demolished. Eventually on the evening of 13 May, Seht Daeng was himself shot in the head, apparently by a sniper, whilst being interviewed at Rachaprasong intersection by a reporter from the New York Times. He was critically wounded and hospitalized, but died three days later.

In a bid to end the crippling protests, the Prime Minister announced he was willing to hold elections on 14 November should the Red Shirts accept the offer, but shelved the plan because demonstrators refused to leave their encampment. On 19 May, the Army, backed by armoured personnel carriers moved in and the rally was broken up in a final series of violent clashes, resulting in the deaths of 11 protestors and an Italian journalist —six of them in Wat Pathum Wanaraam Ratchaworawihaan despite the fact that it had been declared a safe zone for the injured—, and arson attacks that destroyed many key buildings in Bangkok, including Central World Shopping Centre (fig.).

Most Red Shirt leaders surrendered and were arrested or fled and are wanted on terrorism charges for their roles in the rally, with many of the arsonists still at large. The total number of casualties by the end of the two-month-long mass rally stood at 87 dead and well over a thousand injured. In the wake of the rally and subsequent riots, martial law was declared in Bangkok and most of the provinces.

In the way forward, independent bodies examining a raft of reforms are to present their conclusions by the end of the year, paving the way for a referendum on a new constitution at the start of 2011, with elections scheduled by late spring and a new government under a new constitution perhaps formed by the middle of 2011

This election finally took place on 3 July 2011. In a strategic move the now fugitive Thaksin asked his younger sister Yinglak Shinawat to become leader of the Pheua Thai Party, as such acting as a stand-in for himself.

Though without any prior political experience nor with a clear program or vision, the soon dubbed clone of Thaksin, whose family name is her biggest asset but also her most controversial, quickly became very popular, not in the least by making populist promises of exaggerated increases in people's wages and tablet computers for all students (fig.). The fact that she had before lied in court to protect her brother seemed to have had little impact on her popularity, especially in Thaksin's former strongholds of the North and Isaan.

With 264 seats out of 500 in the House of Representatives, the Pheua Thai party secured a clear majority in the general election, which allowed Yinglak Shinawat to become Thailand's first female Prime Minister.