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The turbulent years of democratization (1970-2000)

In the early seventies, the military rulers faced increasing inner political confrontations with critical and discontent citizens. The social problems were rising while economic growth was increasing. Therefore, the people called for an end of political suppression and for free elections and expressed severe government criticism for following the U.S., who had just started to withdraw from Vietnam.
In October 1973, the increasing dissatisfaction exploded: Students from Thammasat University protested against the government and organized an uprising, but the military bloodily put down the rebellion on October 14.
One of the student leaders was Seksan Prasertkul.

Consequently, King Bhumipol and large groups of the army refused further support for the Generals Thanom and Phrapat and both of them were forced to flee the country.
In the following three years, a civilian government ruled the country, but even though they implemented social reforms and democratic basic rights such as freedom of the press, authorization of political parties and trade unions, they did not succeed in establishing stable conditions.

Seksan Prasertkul
At the end of 1976, new riots arose when the former Prime Minister Thanom came back from exile as a monk! This time, however, it all happened in an opposite direction: the military impeached the civil government and regained power.

In November 1977, General Kriengsak Chamanand became head of government and he gave the promise to implement internal stability and overdue reforms.

General Kriengsak
In April 1979, general elections took place, which induced gradually a process of democratization. General Prem Tinsulanond, a retired military officer, was inaugurated as prime minister and he led a government mainly consisting of civilians. Prem, who was very popular and well respected, was returned to his office in 1986 for six more years.
However, in 1988 early elections took place, because 31 representatives of the coalition had moved to the opposition and the prime minister dissolved  parliament. Surprisingly, the majority of the votes during this election were for independent candidate Prem, but he refused to be reelected because of personal reasons. Prem was appointed to the King’s Privy Council, where he remains to this day as King Bhumibol’s closest adviser.

Prem Tinsulanonda

Chatichai Choonhavan, the leader of the Chart Thai political party, which won most of the  votes, became the new prime minister. The ex-army general continued on the same political course as his predecessor Prem, whose main emphasis was on economic development and on the improvement in foreign relations.
Chatichai's term ended abruptly on February 23, 1991, when the Thai military toppled the government in a bloodless coup d‘etat, because they blamed the government for corruption. The increasing power of the clever prime minister was probably more an anathema to them as he intended to limit the influence of the military concerning the affairs of state as well.

As corruption is rampant throughout Thai society from top to bottom, it became an easy excuse to topple various governments in the further history of Thailand.

Chatichai Choonhavan
Black May 1992
In October 1991, early elections were held. A few weeks later, Army Commander Suchinda Kraprayoon (Big Su) was inaugurated as prime minister, even though he was not elected to the parliament. When Suchinda refused the demands from various parties and social groups for a constitutional reform, bloody riots broke out in May 1992. More than 140 people were shot by the military. Similar to the political unrest in 1973, King Bhumipol refused to support the government, so it was forced to resign.
As temporary prime minister Anand Panyarachun was installed, whom many Thais consider to have been the "best prime minister ever". Still today he is held in high esteem within all political circles.
Anand Panyarachun
Early general elections were held in September 1992, the four opposition parties barely won and the lawyer Chuan Leekpai, who was the leader of the Democratic Party, became the new prime minister.
However, in May 1995, he had to step down as well because he was involved in a corruption scandal.

In July 1995, after new elections, Banharn Silpa-Archa, a controversial businessman and leader of the national Chart Thai party, became prime minister. Less than a year later, he was forced to resign. Accusations emerged of corruption among his appointees and abuse of authority.

The young Chuan Leekpai
After an early election in November 1996, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, a former army leader, was elected as prime minister. During his parliamentary term, Thailand suffered the most severe economic and currency crisis in its history, which was responsible for a change in politics as well.

The social tensions became even more problematic and the call for reforms louder.

Chavalit‘s government finally had to resign
in November 1997, because they failed to solve the country‘s political and economical problems.

Chavalit Yongchaiyut
The new elections returned the former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai back to power as he formed another coalition government. The new parliament consisted nearly exclusively of civilians. The government, contrary to its predecessor, gained the trust of the International Monetary Fund, which financed to a large extend the economic recovery of Thailand.
Chuan Leekpai

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