August 29, 2008 / 3:41 AM / 11 years ago

Thailand's restive politics: the key players

(Reuters) - The following are pen portraits of the key players in Thailand’s long-running political crisis nearly two years after a bloodless 2006 coup.

SAMAK SUNDARAVEJ

- A combative right-wing politician and celebrity chef, Thailand’s prime minister leads a six-party coalition government struggling to cope with street protests, stuttering economic growth and soaring inflation.

Samak, 73, has made enemies in the military and royalist establishment since he campaigned in December elections as a front man for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

SONDHI LIMTHONGKUL

- A former business associate of Thaksin, bespectacled media tycoon Sondhi can justifiably claim to be the spark that lit the anti-Thaksin flame that resulted in the 2006 coup.

Sondhi, one of five leaders of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) that led 2005 street protests against Thaksin, has accused the Samak government of corruption and meddling in graft cases against the former prime minister.

Since the PAD — a coalition of businessmen, academics and activists united in their hatred of Thaksin — renewed its protests on May 25 this year, Thai shares have fallen over 23 percent as investors worry about rising political tensions.

CHAMLONG SRIMUANG

- A retired major-general and former Bangkok governor who first brought Thaksin into politics, the 72-year-old PAD leader is as unpredictable as he is tough.

The shaven-headed ascetic Buddhist has heavyweight credentials when it comes to ousting prime ministers: he did it in 1992, when he led a “people power” uprising against a military-led government. Around 50 people were killed.

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA

- A billionaire telecoms tycoon before turning to politics, Thaksin, 58, stands alone as the only elected prime minister in Thailand’s coup-prone history to complete a full term in office.

His populist policies won him huge support among the rural masses but upset Bangkok’s middle classes and led to accusations of corruption, cronyism and abuse of power, which led to his overthrow in 2006.

Thaksin and his wife fled to London earlier this month after skipping bail on corruption charges. Despite his exile, many Thais believe he continues to pull strings in the government.

KING BHUMIBOL ADULYADEJ

- Thailand’s revered king completes 62 years on the throne this year, the world’s longest-reigning sovereign.

A constitutional monarch, he has nevertheless intervened publicly in politics twice, in both instances against military rulers and only after bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok.

Compiled by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Alan Raybould

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