History, Civilian Governments
Banharn Silpa-archa, Thai Rak Thai, populist platform, vote fraud, Thai currency
In September 1992 new elections brought a genuinely civilian government to power under prime minister Chuan Leekpai, leader of the Democrat Party. Chuan began the process of writing an entirely new and more democratic constitution for Thailand, which was completed in 1997. He also presided over a period of economic boom during which Thailand experienced one of the highest economic growth rates in the world.
Chuan’s government collapsed in 1995 following accusations of corruption. He was succeeded by Banharn Silpa-archa, leader of the Chart Thai (Thai Nation) Party. However, Banharn’s government was soon accused of corruption and other wrongdoing, and he resigned from office in 1996. Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s New Aspiration Party won September 1996 elections, and Chavalit became the new prime minister.
In mid-1997 Thailand’s economy experienced a significant setback as the Thai currency fell sharply against the U.S. dollar. Many businesses and financial institutions failed, and unemployment rose sharply. The crisis then spread, affecting the economies of other Asian nations. To control and contain the situation, the International Monetary Fund stepped in with a package of loans, in return for which Thailand accepted measures intended to restore its economy to health. By late 1998 the exchange rate had improved.
Thailand’s economic crisis spawned a number of related problems, including urban unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, and a decline in social services. The crisis made it difficult for the government to fund adequate educational reform and to care for the country’s considerable population of AIDS and HIV patients. A test of Thailand’s strength in the years to come will be its ability to restore its own self-confidence and surmount these and other challenges.
In November 1997, meanwhile, Chavalit resigned as prime minister in the face of criticism for his economic policies. Chuan Leekpai was appointed to the post a second time. The January 2001 general elections were the first to be held under the reformist 1997 constitution, which created the Election Commission to monitor elections for vote fraud. The Thai Rak Thai (Thai Love Thai) Party of telecommunications tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra won by a landslide on a populist platform, promising economic initiatives to benefit small businesses and farmers. Thai Rak Thai entered a three-party coalition controlling 325 of 500 seats in the House of Representatives, and Thaksin secured a parliamentary mandate to become prime minister. His party then absorbed the Seritham (Liberal Democratic) Party and gained 14 additional seats, making it the first governing party in the country’s history to secure a simple majority.
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