Thai businessman and politician, prime minister of Thailand 2001–06. A telecommunications billionaire, Shinawatra's populist Thai Rak Thai (TRT; Thais Love Thais) party, formed in 1988, swept to power in the January 2001 general election with the biggest popular vote in Thai political history. Shinawatra pledged to improve administrative efficiency and root out corruption. However, his government itself later faced allegations of corruption. He worked to improve education and public health, subsidizing universal health care, and became Thailand's first elected prime minister to complete his term of office. His government was re-elected by a landslide majority in 2005, but his demagogic leadership style and attacks on press freedom were controversial and in September 2006 he was removed from office in a bloodless military coup, while he was in New York.
Shinawatra was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He studied for a doctorate in criminal justice 1973–78 and worked in the Thailand police department 1973–87. He set up his own successful telecoms and media business, the Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group, in 1987, and within a decade had become Thailand's richest person. In 1994 he served as a foreign minister, becoming leader of the Palang Dharma party in 1995, and serving as deputy prime minister 1995–96. His election campaign promised generous health insurance, grants of £16,000 to each of the country's 70,000 villages, a three-year debt moratorium for farmers, and to protect the economy from foreign domination.