Army chief Sarit Thanarat suspends the constitution, dissolves parliament, and bans parties, using the motto "Nation-Religion-King." Sarit calls for a new constitution but sits as a powerful interim prime minister for years, laying the basis for development through economic policies that expand education, investment, and infrastructure. U.S. troops arrive in 1962 as war in Vietnam builds.
After Sarit's death, his defense minister, Thanom Kittikachorn, becomes prime minister and continues his policy of political stability, economic development, and anticommunism while allowing some democratization. Insurgencies by Communists and ethnic groups provide a genuine threat, as well as a convenient label for opposition of any kind.
The constitution is at last completed in 1968, and the first elections return Thanom to power, beginning a short experiment in parliamentary democracy.
Thanom repeals the constitution, ending parliamentary democracy and wielding power through a National Executive Council and a largely appointed assembly. After bloody protests, the king negotiates the coup leaders' exile as new pressures from a more educated and prosperous population begin a period of alternating democratization and authoritarianism.
The king appoints legal scholar Sanya Thammasak prime minister. A 1974 constitution provides for an elected House of Representatives. With many new parties, elections do not produce a clear majority, though center and right parties dominate. A series of coalitions fail to achieve stability or reform. Right-wing power increases, and anticommunist laws are used against labor and student organizers.
Paramilitaries attack student protesters, the army again seizes power, and many students flee to the forests to join communist rebels. An army-backed, anticommunist ex-judge is soon replaced as prime minister by Gen. Kriangsak Chamanand. Kriangsak promises elections, while a new constitution creates an elected House and an appointed Senate.
The effects of the oil shocks increase opposition to the ruling moderate right, and Kriangsak resigns. The National Assembly elects the economically savvy Gen. Prem Tinsulanon, who encourages democratization and with the king's help survives two coups. Continuity in policies and stability allows faster growth, while improved ties with China stanch Chinese resource flow to communist insurgents.
National elections bring to power Gen. Chatichai Choonhavan, a retired major general, businessman, and head of the Thai Nation Party.
Generals overthrow the elected government and name a new prime minister, ending a dozen years of relative freedom. After another round of mass protests, with many students killed, the military government and its undemocratic constitution are revoked. Democratic progress under an interim government is followed by a coalition under Chuan Leekpai running on a pro-democracy platform.
The government falls in a scandal tied to manipulation of forest lands, and a no-confidence vote in 1996 ousts another prime minister, Banharn Silpa-archa, requiring selection of the sixth prime minister in as many years. While this instability raises concerns, no-confidence votes and a free press are among the few checks on power in the absence of an independent judiciary.
As a crisis sets in, the prime minister resigns, and Chuan Leekpai returns to guide recovery. The most democratic constitution yet mandates more public participation, decentralization, and fairer elections. The first-ever Senate elections take place in 2000, and 78 candidates are disqualified for fraud, another first. But reform comes slowly, and parties still rely on money politics to win votes.
In January 2001 telecom tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai (TRT; Thais Love Thais) Party wins lower house elections with a genuine platform of growth and rural development. Reforms to increase political stability seem to work as TRT wins a large bloc of seats and then absorbs smaller parties to gain a rare majority. TRT's dominance encourages stability, but not necessarily political reform.
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