Thaksin Shinawatra (täkˈsĭn shĭˈnäwät) [key], 1949–, Thai business executive and political leader, b. Chiang Mai. Born into a wealthy merchant family, he went into the Thai police service in 1973 and continued his criminal-justice education in the United States. He rose to the rank of police lieutenant colonel by 1987, when he retired. He had started (1982) a computer business with his wife, and after leaving the police force grew his business interests into a major telecommunications company. One of Thailand's wealthiest persons, he entered politics and served as foreign minister (1994–95) and deputy prime minister (1995–96, 1997).
In 1998 he founded the Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais; TRT) party, which in 2001 won nearly half the seats in parliament. Thaksin became prime minister of a three-party coalition government and avoided a five-year banning from politics later that year when he was narrowly cleared of charges of not fully disclosing his assets during his second term as deputy prime minister. In 2005 he led his party to a landslide victory, becoming the first Thai prime minister to win two consecutive elections. An outspoken populist and nationalist, he favored policies designed to help farmers and small businesses and oversaw a period of economic growth. His tenure was marred, however, by charges of favoring family and friends with government jobs and by a 2003 antidrug campaign in which 2,500 were killed.
Antigovernment demonstrations in 2005–6 led him to call snap elections in Apr., 2006, which his party won, but an opposition boycott led to numerous abstentions and 40 unfilled seats, leading Thaksin to step aside for "rest" (though he retained his post). The Thai military overthrew him in September while he was abroad; the king's displeasure with him was a contributing factor to the coup.
In Oct., 2006, Thaksin resigned as TRT party leader; by then the coup had led to the party's collapse. Seven months later, he was banned from political office for five years by the constitutional court when it found that the TRT party had violated electoral laws; the party was ordered dissolved. In June, 2007, the government moved to seize some of Thaksin's assets and ordered him to return to face corruption charges. He only returned, however, in Feb., 2008, after a government led by his political allies had been elected. Both he, his wife, and other family members have been charged with a number of crimes since his government's overthrow, and in 2008 his wife was convicted of tax evasion (her conviction was overturned in 2011). Permitted to leave Thailand temporarily in Aug., 2008, he and his wife subsequently stayed abroad. He was convicted of corruption two months later, and in November divorced his wife; the Thai supreme court ruled in 2010 that $1.4 billion of his family's assets were gained illegally and would be confiscated. In Nov., 2009, Thaksin was made an economic adviser to Cambodia's government; the appointment further strained the already difficult relations between the two nations. In the 2011 elections, the Phuea Thai (For Thais; PTP) party, led by his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, won.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.