A New Constitution and the End of Military Rule
In the country's first referendum, held in August 2007, Thailand voted
in favor of a new constitution, which set the stage for parliamentary
elections and a return to democracy after a year of military rule. In
December's parliamentary elections, the People Power Party, which supports
former prime minister Thaksin, won 233 out of 480 seats in parliamentary
elections, a clear rebuke to military rule. Thaksin, who had been in
self-imposed exile in London, said he would return to Thailand but not
enter politics. Samak Sundaravej, of the People Power Party, was elected
prime minister by Parliament in January 2008, thus completing the
transition back to democracy. Samak, a controversial and contentious
figure, called himself a "proxy" for Thaksin and said he would work to
tackle poverty in rural Thailand. In the 1970s and 1990s, Samak supported
violent crackdowns on students and pro-democracy campaigners.
Thaksin returned to Thailand in February 2008 after 17 months in exile.
He said he was prepared to face corruption charges related to property he
acquired from a state agency during his tenure as prime minister. In July,
his wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced
to three years in jail. Thaksin failed to appear for a court appearance in
August and fled with his wife to London. He left behind about $2 billion
in assets that was frozen by the military when it assumed power in 2006.
He said he would not receive a fair trial in Thailand.
In July, Unesco, the cultural arm of the United Nations, designated the
Preah Vihear temple, which sits on the Cambodian side of the
Cambodian-Thai border, as a UN World Heritage Site. The move stirred
nationalist emotions on both sides and fueled the tension between the
countries. Both countries moved troops to disputed land near the temple.
Squirmishing broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops in October 2008,
and two Cambodian soldiers were killed.