Thailand’s Political Players
Yingluck Shinawatra: The younger sister of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck guided the PTP to victory in July 2011 and has been sworn in as prime minister. In response to speculation that his sister is nothing more than a mouthpiece, Thaksin stated that she is rather his “clone,” and that he trusts any decisions she makes will be consistent with his own preferences. Whatever the case, the likelihood is that Yingluck’s government will promote populist economic policies similar to those implemented by her brother, and she will be vulnerable to hostile action by Thaksin’s enemies within the political establishment, especially if she is perceived to be pursuing an amnesty or other plan intended to enable Thaksin to resume his political career in Thailand.
Pheu Thai Party: The PTP was formed in 2008 to replace the legally disbanded PPP as the main political vehicle of allies of former Prime Minister Thaksin. The PTP won 265 seats in the 500-member Parliament at elections held in July 2011, becoming only the second Thai party to win an outright majority of seats (the first being Thaksin’s own TRT party). The presence of Thaksin’s younger sister at the head of the new government may help to promote stronger unity within the party, and PTP lawmakers can be expected to support the populist policy course advocated by Thaksin. The main question is whether the PTP can avoid the same fate as the TRT and the PPP, both of which were dissolved by the courts after being found guilty of electoral fraud.
Democrat Party: The PP finished a distant second to the pro-Thaksin PTP at the July 2011 election. The party enjoys the support of the royal establishment, and could return to power if the PTP should provoke the hostility of the crown or the military. However, the Democrats control just 159 seats in the lower house of Parliament, and would need the backing of smaller parties, including dissident members of the PTP, to form a majority government. During its most recent turn in power, the party co-opted some portions of Thaksin’s populist program, but the PP generally supports a business-friendly policy agenda.
Military: The country’s military leaders emerged as a dominant political player following the September 2006 coup, and will continue to wield political influence through the powers granted under internal security legislation and the presence of numerous former officers among appointed members of the Senate.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The military coup in September 2006 followed a period of high tension between Thaksin and the monarch, and was undoubtedly undertaken with the king’s blessing. Although Bhumibol’s authority is unquestioned, his frail health and age will likely necessitate a transfer of power to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in the not-too-distant future. The crown prince is not nearly as popular as his father, and his numerous military titles are a source of discomfort for many Thais.