Freedom in the World
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The government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva continued to rule without a voter mandate in 2009, having taken power in late 2008 following a court decision to dissolve the ruling People’s Power Party (PPP). Abhisit struggled during the year to maintain control over his coalition and deflect corruption charges against his allies. Meanwhile, deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra continued to advocate the overthrow of the government from abroad, and a PPP-aligned protest movement mounted antigovernment demonstrations throughout the year. The protests turned violent in April, prompting Abhisit to declare emergency rule in Bangkok for nearly two weeks. Also in 2009, the government dramatically increased its coercive use of lese majeste laws to curb freedom of expression and political speech.
Emergency rule in Bangkok was lifted on April 24, and Abhisit led a genuine reconciliation effort beginning in May. However, a multiparty reconciliation panel was unable to agree on draft changes to the 2007 constitution and the question of amnesty for the 111 party officials banned from politics as part of the dissolution of the TRT. Abhisit also faced potential opposition from the New Politics Party, formed by the PAD in late June and led by labor activist Somsak Kosaisuk. Separately, the red shirts infuriated their opponents over the summer by garnering over 3.5 million signatures to petition the king for a pardon for Thaksin. In October, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who had served as prime minister from 1996 to 1997, became chairman of the PPP’s successor party, the Phuea Thai Party (PTP, or For Thais Party).
Thailand is not an electoral democracy. The most recent parliamentary elections in December 2007 proceeded without major disruptions and returned Thailand to civilian rule, but they were not free and fair. The military retained significant influence, and martial law remained in effect in 25 provinces at the time of the elections. The CNS maintained tight control over the electoral process and deliberately maneuvered to influence the outcome against the PPP. Moreover, the PPP-led government that emerged from the voting was toppled in December 2008 in what many observers regarded as a judicial coup. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who took power after the PPP’s ouster, did not seek a popular mandate in 2009, although by-elections were held without incident in January and June. The ruling coalition performed well in the January voting, but in the two by-elections held in June in the northeast, the opposition PTP defeated the BJT, which had defected from the PPP-led alliance to join Abhisit’s government.
While women have the same legal rights as men, they remain subject to economic discrimination in practice; underrepresented in local and national government bodies, with about 13 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament; and vulnerable to domestic abuse, rape, and sex trafficking. Some 200,000 to 300,000 Thai women and children work as prostitutes, according to NGO estimates, and sex tourism remains a problem.