After creating his cabinet in February 2001, Thaksin set about immediately fulfilling his four major campaign pledges. He instituted the debt moratorium for farmers in July 2001 and also in that month began distributing grants to Thai villages. In October 2001, his universal health care policy had been instituted, and any Thai could receive medical attention for 30 baht , about US $0.80. His plan for helping the banking sector has been more difficult: as much as 30% of the banking sector's outstanding loans are non-performing and the problem has had no easy solution. By early 2003, the Thai economy relied on its healthy export growth for survival in an increasingly difficult financial climate.
Despite running on a populist platform and promising to eliminate corruption and cronyism from Thai politics, Thaksin's cabinet was made up of many well-known politicians from previous governments, as well as at least three other Thai multi-millionaires. The combination of his immense wealth and his political power has drawn criticism from political opponents, segments of the population, and the media. Government intervention in the massive default case of Thai Petrochemical Industry (TPI) was one area of concern. Also, Thaksin himself controls Thailand's only private television broadcast network and there was some discontent when its management fired some news reporters who had a reputation for critical reporting. In the telecommunications sector, Thaksin ran into political trouble when his government passed a law limiting foreign ownership in the sector to just 25%, a law that greatly benefited Thaksin's economic interests. After much criticism, Thaksin relented and allowed 49% foreign ownership.
Thailand has long had one of the freest press in Southeast Asia. But in 2002, Thaksin threatened to revoke the visas and expel from the country two reporters for the Far Eastern Economic Review, for allegedly publishing stories critical of the king. An international outcry combined with substantial internal protests caused him to rescind the order. But this incident led many to see an authoritarian streak in Thaksin, a quality Thais find deeply troubling in light of the military dictatorships that have ruled the country over the years.
Authoritariansim characterized Thaksin's large-scale "war on drugs" during early 2003. Thousands of people were allegedly killed during the three month campaign to wipe out illegal narcotics dealing. Human rights organizations condemned the high number of extra-judicial killings by the Thai police forces. Thaksin defended the crack-down as necessary to rid the country of large-scale trafficking in heroin and methamphetamines. "Everything that has been done is according to the Constitution of Thailand, and also under the law," he insisted. There has been considerable criticism of Thaksin's concentrating on lower-level dealers, while maintaining friendly relations with Myanmar (Burma), the source of the hard narcotics.