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History, Struggle for Democracy

interim prime minister, Thammasat University, Thai military, legislative elections, Communist China

As a result of improved education and heightened prosperity among the Thai people, as well as frustration with governmental corruption and inefficiency, the countryís military rulers came under increasing political pressure by the late 1960s. Thanomís government took gradual steps to restore the political rights suspended in 1958. Elections to municipal councils were held for the first time in a decade in 1967, and a new constitution was promulgated in 1968. In 1969 Thailand held legislative elections. The United Thai Peopleís Party won a plurality of 75 seats in the House of Representatives, while the largest opposition group, the Democrat Party, won 56 seats.

As the United States gradually decreased its military involvement in Vietnam and moved to establish friendly relations with Communist China, Thailand sought to establish a more flexible foreign policy, especially toward China and North Vietnam. Meanwhile, the United States withdrew from Southeast Asia, contributing to a decline of the Thai economy, and opposition to Thanomís government increased in the outer provinces and in Bangkok. The government responded by reestablishing military rule in 1971, abolishing the constitution, and dissolving the legislature.

In 1973 a series of student-led demonstrations against the military government resulted in Thanomís resignation and the appointment of a civilian cabinet. A new constitution was approved in late 1974, and a new government was freely elected in early 1975. Stability remained elusive, however, and elections in 1976 made little difference. Thailand became deeply polarized between liberals and conservatives, especially after Communist regimes took power throughout Indochina in 1975 and the monarchy was abolished in Laos. When Thanom returned from exile abroad in mid-1976, demonstrations grew into bloody battles on the streets of Bangkok between leftist students and Thanomís right-wing supporters. In October the Thai military and police launched a bloody assault on students demonstrating at Thammasat University. As disorder spread, a military group led by Admiral Sa-ngad Chaloryu seized control of the country and installed a civilian and former Supreme Court judge, Thanin Kraivixien, as head of a conservative government.

Thaninís government proved to be more authoritarian than even the most repressive of the countryís military regimes. In October 1977 he was overthrown by Sa-ngad and his group and replaced by General Kriangsak Chomanand. The many students who had fled Bangkok slowly began drifting back to a society that was slowly righting itself.

The military maintained tight reins on the government until a new constitution was promulgated (December 1978), elections were held (April 1979), and military leaders were sufficiently satisfied with the new order. The military then allowed the installation of a new cabinet headed by General Prem Tinsulanonda as prime minister. Elections in 1983 confirmed Prem as head of a new coalition government, and he was reelected in 1986. General Chatichai Choonhavan replaced Prem following elections in 1988, but in 1991 the military overthrew Chatichai and installed their own interim coalition government. When the military manipulated 1992 elections to guarantee a victory, demonstrations broke out in Bangkok calling for democratic reforms. The protests were violently suppressed. Thailandís king then intervened, ending military rule and installing another interim prime minister, Anand Panyarachun.

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