Thailand Institutional Organization and Internal Politics

By | December 17, 2021

Since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, the peculiarity of Thai internal politics has been the high instability and the perennial tension between the consolidation of democratic institutions and the resistance of the military and political elite. Since then, including the last coup in May 2014, there have been 12 successful coups and the country has 17 constitutional charters, pending the eighteenth. Of particular importance, among these, is the People’s Constitution which, drawn up by a constituent assembly elected by the people and promulgated in October 1997, introduced an elective bicameral legislature. Although democratic institutions had resisted for nearly fifteen years since 1992, the re-election of the telecommunications magnate Thaksin Shinawatra, which took place in 2005, sparked the reaction of the Thai elite, which resulted in the bloodless coup in September 2006 in which Thaksin was deposed. In 2014, history repeated itself, this time to the detriment of Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck, who was equally disliked by the elite as she was considered a puppet in the hands of her hated brother. To understand the roots of such a vehement opposition, however, it is necessary to reconstruct the events of the first Thaksin government and those following the 2006 coup. support for the less well-off classes, residing mainly in the north-eastern part of the country, was assuming an enormous political and economic influence compared to the traditional Thai balances, marginalizing one’s opponents, placing trusted men in crucial positions and assuming a prestige that in Thailand can only belong to the sovereign. All of these factors contributed to alienating him from the support of the Bangkok elite that only four years earlier had partly favored his rise. Just a ceremony at the temple of the Emerald Buddha was the spark that gave impetus to the anti-Thaksin and pro-monarchist campaign, based on the slogan We love the King and implemented by the opposition Pad party (People’s Alliance for Democracy) with the support of the royal house. Following the coup, the military junta appointed an assembly for the drafting of the Constitution and on 19 August 2007, in a climate in which any criticism was punishable by law, the new Charter was approved by referendum, with 59.3% votes in favor. The new document reduced the government’s freedom of action, increasing the role of the judiciary, special commissions and the Senate. Although these measures had the function of eradicating the power of Thaksin and his party, the Thai Rak Thai, the elections of December 2007 saw the affirmation of Palang Prachachon, heir to the TRT. This maintained the majority until the outbreak of street demonstrations by the Yellow Shirts and the consequent dissolution of the party by the Constitutional Court, which paved the way for the election of Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party as prime minister. At the end of 2008, therefore, the political rift worsened even more and, following the two-year sentence in absentia (given that he has been in voluntary exile since 2008) imposed on Thaksin in October of the same year, the dissolution of his party and the confiscation of his properties in early 2010 (about 1.4 billion dollars), his supporters, the Red Shirts, took to the streets, giving life to the most turbulent and violent months experienced by the country since the ‘black May’ of 1992, when 52 demonstrators were killed by the repression of the army. In fact, in the demonstrations of spring 2010, 88 deaths and about 2,000 injured among the demonstrators were recorded. The clear victory of the Pheu Thai Party in 2011, which won 104 seats against the 4 that went to the Democrats in the colleges of the north-east, while it only secured 3 seats out of 53 in the south (where the Muslim population still remembers the repression of was Thaksin), confirmed the deep geopolitical and economic division of the country. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, in the 33 months in power before the coup, therefore had to deal with the direct effects of the profound division afflicting Thailand.¬†For Thailand government and politics, please check

The entire political life has often been dominated by institutional clashes, consequently burdening the decision-making process. In such a climate, article 190 of the Constitution relating to national sovereignty has been repeatedly called into question by the opposition in an attempt to obstruct the executive’s action. The clash escalated at the end of 2013, when the Constitutional Court rejected the proposed amendment to the Constitution approved by the parliament that would have made the Senate composed of 200 members and fully elective. The Court justified the ruling by denying the principle of ‘majority dictatorship’ and affirming that the amendment would have jeopardized the current monarchical-parliamentary structure. Yet once again the political battle centered around the bulky figure of Thaksin. While for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the proposal for an amnesty law for the events following the 2006 coup was an essential step on the road to national reconciliation, capable at the same time of solving the judicial problems of Abhisit Vejjajiva for the repression of 2010 and subsequently favoring the return of his brother to his homeland, the effects were opposed as for the opponents it represented the breaking of the tacit compromise that had allowed the Pheu Thai Party to govern for almost two and a half years. In the following months, massive street demonstrations and clashes led to almost 30 victims and hundreds of injuries recalling the spring of 2010. Completely paralyzing the government’s action also through the occupation of various ministries and offices, the riots forced Yingluck to favor the dissolution of the chamber and to call new elections. The vote, held in February and boycotted in many areas of the country, was then overturned by the Constitutional Court in March. The same Court on 7 May finally deposed the premier for a case of abuse of power dating back to 2011. In this context of total stalemate and ungovernable military intervention was in the air and promptly materialized with the coup d’etat fifteen days later.

However, in addition to socio-economic fractures, the great uncertainty surrounding Thai politics stems from the crucial question of the king’s succession. Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) who, at the age of 86, is the longest-lived ruler in the world and for years his health has caused great concern. He is the ninth ruler of the Chakri dynasty who has led the country for 230 years and despite not enjoying significant formal powers, he represents the symbol of national unity and is much loved by the people, also because in the past he was able to prevent internal fractures from degenerating into civil war. The entire political order of the Thai constitutional monarchy is based around the king and his influence, as well as symbolic, has solid constitutional bases, is above all strengthened by the deep symbiosis with the military-bureaucratic apparatus. The sovereign’s health conditions have appeared to be worsening considerably in recent months, but great uncertainty remains due to the law on lese majesty. The most critical question therefore consists in the future succession: the crown prince Vajiralongkorn does not receive the appreciation of the establishment, nor that of the people because of their dissolute lifestyle. Even more thorny is his close relationship with Thaksin. Sister Sirindhorn, on the other hand, enjoys greater esteem and would be a much more welcome solution to monarchists and soldiers and, therefore, it cannot be excluded that the Palatine Law is amended by the king himself in order to favor the succession of his daughter. While any developments in this sense are shrouded in an almost absolute mystery, the death of Bhumibol Adulyadej will turn the tables and it cannot be excluded that, in the absence of the figure that has been the glue for over half a century, the country may fall into a an even more turbulent phase which in the worst case scenario could degenerate into a civil war.

Thailand Politics