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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 08:40 GMT
The rise and rise of Thaksin
By Bethan Jinkinson
BBC News, Bangkok

The overwhelming victory of the ruling Thai Rak Thai party in Sunday's poll gives Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra the honour of being the country's first democratically-elected prime minister to win a consecutive term.

Mr Thaksin, a former policeman turned business leader, only founded Thai Rak Thai (Thais love Thais) in 1998.

Now the party looks set to control around 80% of the seats in parliament. So how did he pull it off?

Thaksin at news conference on Sunday
There are fears that Mr Thaksin's power will go unchecked
Mr Thaksin's popularity in Thailand is legendary, and is largely based on catchy policies like the 30 baht health scheme - which provides health care for under $1 - and promises to eradicate poverty across the kingdom.

Mr Thaksin has acknowledged this populist approach when he said that tackling poverty was at the foundation of his party's platform.

"If the people are poor, the country cannot be prosperous. Our policy has won people's hearts," he said.

Even his more controversial policies, such as a crackdown on drugs in which over 2,500 people were killed by police - have had overwhelming popular approval.

One way he has consolidated his position is via his dominance of the country's media.

Our country has entered the Dark Ages led by the most powerful politician since military dictators ruled the country in the 1950s and 1960s
Vasan Sithiket
Social activist

Five of Thailand's six television stations are state or military owned.

The sixth is controlled by Shin corporation, the conglomerate Mr Thaksin founded and which is now worth more than $2.5bn, with interests ranging from mobile phones to satellites and the internet.

Even Mr Thaksin's problems - like an outbreak of bird flu last year and an upsurge in separatist violence in the country's largely Muslim south - do not seem to have dented his popularity with voters.

'Luxury of choice'

But to his critics, Mr Thaksin's sweeping victory will raise concerns about the strength of Thailand's democracy.

The Thai electoral commission described the campaign as being riddled with corruption - and said vote-buying was widespread.

And without the checks and balances provided by a robust opposition, there are fears Mr Thaksin's authoritarian leanings will go unchallenged.

Four years from now, my critics in academia and the opposition will known me better - they'll realise that I really had good intentions for the country
Thaksin Shinawatra
Social activist Vasan Sithiket said he deeply regrets Mr Thaksin's landslide victory.

"Our country has entered the Dark Ages led by the most powerful politician since military dictators ruled the country in the 1950s and 1960s," he said.

An editorial in the Nation newspaper reiterates some of these concerns.

"At this juncture in Thailand's political history, Thaksin has the luxury of choosing whether he will go the way of the statesman and bring Thai democracy to a new level of maturity, or whether he will become tyrannical and eventually tear down the country's hard-earned democracy," it said.

Mr Thaksin is not fazed by his critics.

"Four years from now, my critics in academia and the opposition will know me better. They'll realise that I really had good intentions for the country," he said.

Mr Thaksin has promised not to implement any dramatic policies in his next term.

However, he has said he will restructure and reform the economy.

If he can get that right - and keep the booming Thai economy on track - Mr Thaksin's unique brand of leadership could keep its place in the country's politics well beyond 2009.

Mr Shinawatra's plans for a second term

Thailand's PM claims poll victory
06 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Traditional ties to decide Thai poll
04 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Thai election: Overview
04 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra
04 Feb 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Thailand's restive south
23 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Thailand
08 Jan 05 |  Country profiles

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