Thailand has gone through an extraordinary six months. In October in the south, a protest by Muslims in Tak Bai triggered a deadly overreaction by security forces. Eighty-five people died by suffocation or crushing from being detained in army trucks. Many more were killed in December when a tsunami struck the country's west coast, devastating the local tourist industry. The poultry industry had already been badly hurt by avian flu. One might have thought that the government's popularity would have suffered from these events. Instead, in national parliamentary elections in February, the ruling Thai Rak Thai party of incumbent Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra won an unprecedented absolute majority of 377 out of 500 seats. No Thai prime minister had ever been reelected for a second consecutive term, and no Thai party had ever carried a democratic election by such a huge margin. Why? And with what implications for the future?
Kavi Chongkittavorn is assistant group editor of National Multimedia Group, publisher of the English language daily, The Nation. Before taking up this position, he was The Nation's bureau chief in Cambodia (1987-1989) and Vietnam (1989-1991). For more than two decades he has reported the news from Thailand and Southeast Asia. He served briefly as a special assistant to the secretary general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (1994-1995). He also chairs the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, a Bangkok-based media freedom advocacy group.