Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thaksin Shinawatra

Thaksin Shinawatra ( born 26 July 1949) is a Thai businessman and politician, who was Prime Minister of Thailand from 2001 to 2006, when he was overthrown in a military coup.

Thaksin founded Advanced Info Service, Thailand's most successful mobile phone operator, and became a billionaire. Thaksin entered politics in 1994 under Phalang Dharma Party, left the party along with many of its MPs in 1996, and founded the populist Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party in 1998. After a historic election victory in 2001, he became prime minister, the country's first to serve a full term. Thaksin introduced a range of policies to alleviate rural poverty; highly popular, they helped reduce poverty by half in four years. He launched the country's first universal healthcare program, the 30-baht scheme, as well as a highly popular drug suppression campaign. Thaksin embarked on a massive program of infrastructure investment, including roads, public transit, and Suvarnabhumi Airport. Nevertheless, public sector debt fell from 57% of GDP in January 2001 to 41% in September 2006. Levels of corruption were perceived to have fallen, with Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index improving from 3.2 to 3.8 between 2001 and 2005. The Thai Rak Thai party won an unprecedented landslide in the 2005 general election, which had the highest voter turnout in Thai history.

The Shinawatra government faced allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, treason, conflicts of interest, acting non-diplomatically, and muzzling of the press. Thaksin was accused of tax evasion, lèse majesté (insulting King Bhumibol), and selling assets of Thai companies to international investors. Independent bodies, including Amnesty International, criticized Thaksin's human rights record. Thaksin was also charged for concealing his wealth during his premier.

Protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy occurred in 2006, and on 19 September 2006 a military junta which later called itself the Council for National Security (CNS) overthrew Thaksin's government in a coup while he was abroad. A CNS-appointed tribunal dissolved the Thai Rak Thai party for electoral fraud ex post facto, banning him and TRT's executives from politics for five years. The CNS-appointed Assets Examination Committee froze Thaksin and his family's assets in Thailand, totaling 76 billion baht ($2.2 billion), claiming he had become unusually wealthy while in office. Thaksin and his wife had declared assets totaling 15.1 billion baht when he took office in 2001, although he had transferred many of his assets to his children and associates before taking office.

Thaksin returned to Thailand on 28 February 2008, after the People's Power Party, which he supported, won the post-coup elections. But after visiting Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, he did not return to hear the final supreme court sentence and applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. This was refused, after which he had to move about from one country to another. In October, the Thailand Supreme Court found him guilty of a conflict of interest and sentenced him in absentia to two years imprisonment.

The People's Power Party was later dissolved by the Supreme Court, but party members regrouped to form the Pheu Thai Party, which Thaksin also supported. Thaksin is a supporter, and alleged bankroller, of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (aka "Red Shirts"). The Government revoked Thaksin's passport for his role in the UDD's protests during Songkran 2009. In 26 February 2010, the Supreme Court seized 46 billion baht of his frozen assets, after finding him guilty of abnormal wealth. In 2009 it was announced that Thaksin had obtained Montenegrin citizenship through that country's economic citizenship program.

Early life
Thaksin's great-grandfather, Seng Sae Khu, was a Chinese immigrant from Meizhou, Guangdong, China, who arrived in Siam in the 1860s and settled in Chiang Mai in 1908. His eldest son, Chiang Sae Khu, was born in Chanthaburi in 1890 and married a Thai woman, called Saeng Somna. Chiang's eldest son, Sak, adopted the Thai surname Shinawatra ("routinely appropriate action") in 1938 because of the country's anti-Chinese movement and the rest of the family also adopted it.

Seng Sae Khu had made his fortune through tax farming. Chiang Sae Khu/Shinawatra later founded Shinawatra Silks and then by moving into finance, construction and property development. Thaksin's father, Lert, was born in Chiang Mai in 1919 and married Yindi Ramingwong (a daughter of Princess Jantip Na Chiang Mai). In 1968, Lert Shinawatra entered politics and became an MP for Chiang Mai and deputy leader of the now-defunct Liberal party. Lert Shinawatra quit politics in 1976. Lert Shinawatra opened a coffee shop, grew oranges and flowers in Chiang Mai's San Kamphaeng district, and opened two movie theatres, a gas station, and a car and motorcycle dealership. By the time Thaksin was born, the Shinawatra family was one of the richest and most influential families in Chiang Mai.

Thaksin was born in San Kamphaeng, Chiang Mai province. He lived in the village of San Kamphaeng until he was 15, then moved to Chiang Mai city to study at Montfort College. At 16, he helped run one of his father's cinemas.

Thaksin married Potjaman Damapong in 1980. They have one son, Panthongtae and two daughters, Pintongtha and Peathongtarn. They divorced in 2008. Thaksin's youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, entered politics in 2011 at her brother's request as leader of the pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party and was elected prime minister on 3 July 2011.

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