Thailand’s Grand Reconciliation: The Shinawatras and the Establishment

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Thailand’s Grand Reconciliation: The Shinawatras and the Establishment

The rift between Thaksin and the establishment finally appears to have been resolved. This compromise not only fails to address any of Thailand’s past mistakes, but it actually repeats them.

Thailand’s Grand Reconciliation: The Shinawatras and the Establishment

Thailand’s former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stands in front of a portrait of King Maha Vajiralongkorn as he arrives at Don Muang airport in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 22, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the 2014 military coup in Thailand, which led to five years of outright military rule by a junta fronted by General Prayut Chan-o-cha, plus a further four years in which he presided over a flawed parliamentary system dominated by the same royalist and pro-military establishment that initiated the coup.

A decade on, the political landscape looks very different, with Prayut retired from politics after a dismal campaign in the 2023 election, and the Pheu Thai Party, the victims of the 2014 putsch, now leading a coalition government. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the powerful monarch who signed off on the coup, passed away in 2016, and his son, King Vajiralongkorn, sits on the throne. 

However, the 2014 coup and its legacy continues to shape Thailand’s politics in significant ways. 

The lead up to the coup began in late 2013, with then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra facing mass demonstrations that threatened to bring down her government. The demonstrators accused her of being a puppet installed by her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, whom they claimed was pulling the strings from abroad. Thaksin himself had been ousted by a previous military coup in 2006, and subsequently fled the country to avoid criminal charges he has said were politically motivated.

In their mission to free Thailand from what they called “Thaksin-ism,” the protestors insisted that Yingluck be expelled from the country. During a press conference to address the protests, she became visibly upset when asked about this aspect of the protestors’ demands. 

“We are all Thais – do you want me to not even set foot on Thai soil again?” she said in a trembling voice, tears welling in her eyes. “I have retreated until I dont know how to retreat any further,” Yingluck added, before turning sharply and walking away from the podium.

In May 2014, with the anti-government protests still ongoing, Yingluck was removed from office by the courts in a kind of judicial coup. To finish the job, what remained of her embattled government was toppled by the military just a couple of weeks later. It was Thailand’s second military coup in less than a decade, and the second against a member of the Shinawatra family. 

The junta detained Yingluck at an undisclosed location for two days, and then began legal proceedings against her. The protestors eventually got their wish when Yingluck fled Thailand to join her brother, Thaksin, in exile. The courts would later find her guilty of not properly performing her duties as prime minister, and sentence her in absentia to five years in prison. To avoid the sentence, she has not set foot on Thai soil to this day.