In the mid-1300s, a Thai kingdom was established, knows as Siam up until 1939. Never colonized by any European country, Thai remained its own unified nation. In 1932 a revolution led to the country’s constitutional monarchy. After World War II, the Korean, and Vietnam War, Thailand experienced political and economic turmoil with government leaders ousted by the military. 49.9% of Thais live in urban areas while the remaining half live in rural regions for farming.
Since unification, Thailand had multiple kings who were frequently ousted by the military and placed into exile. In 1932 when a constitutional monarchy was established, prime ministers were elected to preside over the country. Seventeen military coups took place over the next seventy years with new leaders entering and almost immediately leaving the office. In 2001, the country’s new prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, formed a coalition government.
Thaksin Shinawatra ran for election in 1998 advocating for poor rural voters promising to alleviate debt on farmers and offering more affordable healthcare. Using his background early on as a cop and later CEO, he promised citizens a prime minister that was outside of special interests, sharing his distaste in “professional politicians.” By doing so he appealed to new as well as rural voters who wanted a strong leader “just like them.” He divided Thai society between the grass-roots, underprivileged rural population and the elite aristocracy, royalists and urban middle classes.
In 2003, Thaksin Shinawatra, now the prime minister for the last two years, launched a ‘war on drugs,’ focusing on stopping the flow of drug trafficking and the use of drugs. Within the first three months of his policy, over 2800 extrajudicial killings were reported, half of which were arbitrary killings where the individuals killed were not involved in any drug trafficking or drug use. Thaksin essentially blamed drug criminals for the economic woes the country faced after the Asian financial crisis. By making a policy to target drug criminal, he initially won support from a middle class hoping to see less violence in their communities. But, by using drug criminals as political scapegoats, he was able to commit atrocious human rights violations, killing and targeting both innocent and guilty individuals for the sake of his campaign and popularity.