The leaders of the 2006 coup have promised to return Thailand to democracy [EPA]

Thailand is marking the first anniversary of the bloodless coup that overthrew the government of Thaksin Shinawatra.

 

The military government has promised to restore democracy and has set elections for later this year.

 

But many Thais remain unconvinced that the poll will be free and fair, or bring an end to the uncertainty that has badly dented the country's economy.

 

 Support for the coup leaders has dwindled as
Thailand's economy has slumped [Reuters]
Thaksin was overthrown after mounting protests accusing him of corruption and abuse of power.

 

At the time, many Thais welcomed Thaksin's departure, offering flowers to the soldiers who surrounded the parliament in the centre of Bangkok.

 

But one year later Thailand is still gripped by political instability.

 

"I think the coup last year provided a negative impact on the Thai economy, especially the investment sector," Professor Anusorn Tamajai, dean of economics at Bangkok's Rangsit University told Al Jazeera.

 

Human rights groups are equally critical, saying that while there were many concerns when Thaksin was in power, military rule has made the situation even worse.

 

"Thaksin's contempt for human rights and democracy was evident, but Thailand is worse off because of the coup," Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch told the Associated Press.

 

"Martial law remains in many areas of the country, there are greater restrictions on the media, and many key institutions such as the parliament, the Constitutional Tribunal, and the Election Commission have become tools of military rule."

 

Unemployment

 

I am appalled by the suffering that has been inflicted on the Thai people by the junta's misplaced priorities

In the last year, many Thais have been hit hard as the economy has fallen while prices and unemployment have risen.

 

As is often the case, it is those at the bottom end who are hit hardest.

 

Food vendor Laddawan Surinnyan and her taxi driver husband are two who are suffering.

 

"People don’t have money to spend, more people are losing their jobs. Everyone is suffering," she told Al Jazeera.

 

"If Thaksin was still in power it would be much better. He succeeded in everything he did and did many things for the poor."

 

Laddawan is not alone. Thaksin, now the owner of an English premier league football club and living in exile in England still has strong support.

 

'Suffering'

 

 Thaksin still has strong support among
sectors of Thai society [EPA]
Writing in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday's anniversary, Thaksin condemned the military government, saying it had done little over the past year other than "preventing me or anyone sharing my political philosophy from returning to political power."

 

"I am appalled by the suffering that has been inflicted on the Thai people by the junta's misplaced priorities," he wrote.

 

Thaksin's party, Thai Rak Thai or "Thais love Thais", was disbanded earlier this year by the military government after a special court found it had committed electoral fraud.

 

In its place, and occupying the same headquarters, is the new People’s Power Party.

 

It has much the same imagery and the same staff – while Thaksin himself, although in exile, remains a powerful force in the background.

 

Surapong Suebong Lee, general secretary of the new party, says it looks to the deposed prime minister for advice and experience.

 

"He has experience in foreign affairs and the economy and he has done good things for this country," he says.

 

Elections have been set for December and many Thais are hopeful for a fresh start.

 

But in a country which has seen 18 coups in 75 years, fears remain that the military is always capable of staging another.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies