March 22, 2019 / 6:12 AM / 5 months ago

Timeline: Thailand's turbulent politics over two decades

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has seen two coups, duelling street demonstrations and political instability over most of the past two decades, much of it centred around the divisive figure of Thaksin Shinawatra.

FILE PHOTO: Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra looks on as he speaks to Reuters during an interview in Singapore February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy is preparing for a general election on Sunday, the first since a 2014 coup.

Here is a timeline of major events during the years of turmoil in the kingdom.

2001 - Telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party sweeps elections, promising populist policies like universal healthcare, debt relief for farmers and lavish government spending, especially on the rural poor.

2003 - Thaksin launches a high-profile war on drugs during which, critics say, more than 2,500 people were summarily executed.

2005 - Thaksin’s party wins another election, increasing its share of seats in the 500-member lower House of Representatives to 377.

2006 - An anti-Thaksin protest movement, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, gains momentum after the Shinawatra family sells its telecommunications firm, Shin Corporation, to Singapore sovereign fund Temasek for 73 billion baht ($1.8 billion) tax-free using a capital gains loophole. Protesters also point to issues of conflict of interest.

In September, the military launches a coup against Thaksin while he is overseas, citing the need to end the protests.

2007 - The Thai Rak Thai party is ordered dissolved. Elections to restore democracy are won by a new party made up of Thaksin supporters, the People Power Party. Thaksin ally Samak Sundaravej becomes prime minister.

2008 - Thaksin returns to Thailand in February.

In September, a court removes Samak from office for accepting payments for a cooking show he hosted. Parliament elects Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin’s brother-in-law, as prime minister.

In October, a court finds Thaksin guilty of violating a conflict-of-interest law over land deal, sentencing him to two years in prison. Thaksin had left the country weeks before the conviction and has remained in self-exile since then.

“Yellow Shirt” protesters calling for the removal of Somchai descend on Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports in November, closing them for over a week. The protesters disperse after the Constitutional Court dissolves the People’s Power Party over a voter fraud case, removing Somchai as prime minister.

Members of parliament elect the Democrat Party’s Abhisit Vejjajiva as prime minister.

2009 - Pro-Thaksin demonstrators led by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, also known as “Red Shirts”, begin protests against Abhisit’s government, calling it unelected and illegitimate.

In April, protesters storm the site of an East Asia Summit, forcing leaders from Southeast Asia, China, Japan and South Korea to flee from the venue.

2010 - The Red Shirt protests paralyse Bangkok for months until a military crackdown, in which at least 90 people are killed, the deadliest clash between protesters and security forces since 1992.

2011 - New elections are won in a landslide by another new pro-Thaksin party, Pheu Thai. Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister, becomes prime minister.

2013 - Anti-government protesters, led by a top Democrat Party leader, choke the streets of Bangkok after Yingluck’s government introduces an amnesty bill that could have led to Thaksin’s return. The protests go on for months.

2014 - A court removes Yingluck as prime minister for abuse of power. Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongphaisan becomes caretaker prime minister. Demonstrations continue amid accusations that the Pheu Thai government is taking orders from Thaksin and calls for the Shinawatra family to be purged from politics.

On May 22, army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha stages a coup and a junta, the National Council for Peace and Order, seizes control. In August, Prayuth becomes prime minister and later retires as army chief.

2016 - King Bhumibol Adulyadej dies on Oct. 13 after a 70-year reign. His son becomes King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

2017 - In April, a military-backed constitution is ratified after being passed by a referendum and later revised by King Vajiralongkorn, paving the way for an election.

The Supreme Court in August finds Yingluck guilty of negligence in management of a rice subsidy scheme and hands down a five-year prison sentence. Yingluck does not show up for the verdict and flees Thailand.

2018 - The junta lifts the ban on political activity it had imposed after taking power.

March 24, 2019 - First general election since the 2014 coup.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by John Chalmers, Robert Birsel

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