IN DEPTH: Key players and platforms in Thai election

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has conceded election defeat to opposition leader Yingluck Shinawatra. We have the background on the players in the election, the parties, the platforms and the past.


Sunday, July 3. Polls closed at 3 p.m. local time (4 a.m. ET).  Within a few hours, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva conceded defeat to opposition leader Yingluck Shinawatra.

At stake

All 500 seats in Thailand's House of Representatives; 375 seats are decided in a first-past-the-post system, the other 125 in a proportional representation system.

The players

Abhisit Vejjajiva
Abhisit Vejjajiva. (Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press)

Leader of the Democrat Party and prime minister since 2008. Born in England, a graduate of Oxford University and a citizen of the U.K. and Thailand.

An MP since 1992, he became leader following his party's overwhelming defeat in the 2005 election. He did not support the 2007 military coup.

Yingluck Shinawatra
Yingluck Shinawatra. ((Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press))

Entrepreneur, leader of the Pheu Thai Party, and was the favourite according to polls. Youngest sister of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Holds a master's degree in political science from Kentucky State University. Ran the family's mobile phone and real estate businesses.

A political novice, but her victory makes her Thailand's first female prime minister.

Thaksin Shinawatra
Thaksin Shinawatra. ((Jumana El Heloueh/Reuters))

The former prime minister won the 2001 election and then a landslide victory in 2005 but was overthrown in a military coup in 2006. Lives in exile in Dubai, evading a prison sentence on abuse-of-power charges that he says are politically motivated.

A billionaire, he made much of his money in telecommunications.

Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha. ((Associated Press))

Commands Thailand's army and was a leader of the coup that overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra. Claims to be neutral but widely believed to support the Democrat Party. In a TV interview, he told Thais, "If you allow a repeat of the same election pattern, then we will always get the same result, and there will be no improvement." In an obvious reference to Thaksin, whose party won the previous two elections, the general added that Thais should vote for politicians who don't break the law.

There have been 18 military coups or attempted coups since 1932, when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy.

The parties

There were 42 parties contesting the 2011 election, but just two major parties.

Democrat Party

It headed the previous governing coalition and is Thailand's oldest party, but it has not won an election in two decades. It finished second in the 2007 election, winning 165 seats and 30 per cent of the vote.

It came to power in 2008 after the courts, in a controversial move, dissolved the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) then governing Thailand.

Its support is strongest in the south and among Bangkok's middle class. The old money elite, the military generals and the yellow shirt movement back them.

Pheu Thai Party

The third incarnation of a pro-Thaksin party, it was formed in 2008. The previous incarnations won majorities in the 2001 and 2005 elections. In 2007, the PPP won 233 seats and 37 per cent of the vote, enough to finish first but not with a majority.

Their strength is in the vote-rich north and northeast and generally among rural and impoverished urban voters. The red shirt movement and some newly wealthy Thais support them.

Other parties

The 40 other parties together have the support of just 14 per cent of voters, according to a major poll in June. They include:

  • Bhum Jai Thai Party, a member of the governing coalition and often implicated in the numerous corruption scandals dogging the government.
  • Rak Prathet Thai Party, a new party best known for its comical advertising and its charismatic leader, Chuwit Kamolvisit, a massage parlour tycoon.

The polls

Pheu Thai led in all the polls, although amounts varied.

Suan Dusit Rajabhat University in Bangkok polled more than 100,000 people June 4-18. Their results had Pheu Thai with 52 per cent and the Democrat Party at 34 per cent.

The platforms

"Policies of the two main parties are strikingly similar," Reuters reported. And those policies followed the big ticket spending and giveaways that made Thaksin Shinawatra popular, especially with poor voters.

Both parties said they would significantly increase the minimum wage, which has lost ground to inflation for a decade.

Pheu Thai said it would give credit cards to farmers, tablet computers to children entering the school system and cut the corporate tax rate by one-third.

Thai Prime Minister and leader of the Democrat Party Abhisit Vejjajiva, centre, greets a crowd during election campaigning in Bangkok on Thursday. Polls have the Democrats running second. ((Sakchai Lalit/Associated Press))

The Democrat Party promised subsidies to farmers, free electricity to low-income households and a high-speed railway network.

Economist Chutima Woramontri of global bank BNP Paribas costed the Pheu Thai promises at $8.5 billion and the Democrats' at $7.6 billion.

The history

On Sept. 19, 2006, Thai generals, who claimed they had the support of King Bhumibol, overthrew Thaksin Shinawatra, a popular but authoritarian leader facing corruption accusations. The constitution was revoked, martial law declared, the governing party dissolved.

Thaksin's supporters won the most seats in the 2007 election, then formed a coalition government. Scandals and missteps brought the yellow shirts protestors of the People's Alliance for Democracy into the streets. The constitutional court forced out one prime minister, ostensibly over his appearance on a televised cooking show.

Thai soldiers confront anti-government demonstrators April 10, 2010, in Bangkok. The deployment came after protesters were pushed back by water cannons and rubber bullets from an army facility. ((David Longstreath/Associated Press))

The court ordered the dissolution of the pro-Thaksin PPP, paving the way for the Democrats to take over in a new coalition government.

In 2009 and 2010, the red shirt protesters of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship took to the streets in huge numbers, demanding early elections. Violent clashes with the police and military followed.

Human rights groups accused the governments of the pro-Thaksin parties and the Democrat Party of serious human rights violations.

A CBC backgrounder from 2010, "Political turmoil in the streets of Bangkok," has a more detailed history.