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Change in 1932

The politics of Thailand took a very significant turn on 24 June 1932 when a group of young intellectuals, educated abroad and imbued with the concept of Western democracy, staged a bloodless coup demanding a change from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Determined to avoid any bloodshed, King Prajadhipok (Rama Vll) agreed to the abolition of absolute monarchy and the transfer of power to the constitution-based system of government as demanded.

On 10 December 1932, King Prajadhipok signed Thailand's first constitution and thus ended 800 years of Thailand's absolute monarchy. Despite the number of successive constitutions that followed in the span of just over half a century, the basic concepts of constitution have remained unaltered.

Major Ingredients in Thai Politics

The first and foremost concept is the status of the monarch as head of the armed forces and upholder of Buddhism and all other religions. Every constitution provides that the monarch's person is sacred and inviolable. His sovereign power emanates from the people, and as head of state, he exercises his legislative power through parliament, executive power through the cabinet headed by a prime minister, and judicial power through the courts. The monarch is empowered with the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn whenever the government appears not to administer the state affairs according to his wishes and for the good of the people.

The second concept concerns the legislative branch. The new leaders of 1932 realized that the goal of popularly elected government could not be attained immediately, and that considerable experimentation and adaptation would be necessary before a balance could be struck. For this reason, the first constitution was a cautious document that created a bicameral National Assembly with two categories of members, the House of Representatives (the Lower House) which were elected by the popular vote, and the Senate (the Upper House) which were appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers (now called the cabinet). The number of members in the House of Representatives is determined by the size of the population, while the number of senators is normally restricted to no more than three-quarters of the total number of the representatives. This concept remains a basic principle of successive constitutions in Thai politics.

The third concept concerns the executive branch. Every constitution holds that the Prime Minister is head of government and chief executive. A slight difference between the Thai Prime Minister and those in other countries is that, since the creation of the post of Prime Minister in 1933. the Thais have often looked upon their Prime Minister as a protective figure, possibly due to their tendency to extend family structure into the sphere of government.

For the past six decades, Thailand has been adopting the Western democratic system to the needs of a nation with its own identity and time-honored culture. The constitution was amended in June 1992, making it mandatory that the prime minister be an elected member of parliament.

The Government

The cabinet is responsible for the administration of thirteen ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister. Each ministry is headed by a politically appointed minister with one or more deputy ministers. The Prime Minister is assisted by Deputy Prime Ministers as well as a number of ministers holding the portfolio of "Minister to the Prime Minister's Office."

Smaller cabinet committees are set up to help screen proposals from the various ministries sent to the larger cabinet. This process enables the government to ensure that no policy is made that is incompatible with other related ones. The committees may be assigned by the Prime Minister to thoroughly examine the merits of each project or policy for the cabinet so that the latter will not have to go into such details before deciding on proposals and spare itself time to consider other matters.

The Office of the Prime Minister is a central body, which in itself ranks as a ministry, whose responsibility is largely concerned with formulating national policy. Some of its primary subdivisions are the Budget Bureau; the National Security Council; the Juridical Council; the National Economic and Social Development Board; the Board of Investment; the Civil Service Commission and several other organizations vital to the formulation of national policy.

The fourteen ministries are divided on functional basis. At a time when the economic growth of the country is one of the highest in the region and the country is in the process of diversifying from agriculture to industry, the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Finance play important roles in the Thai Government

The Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Justice are in charge of maintaining peace and security and regulating law and order of the country.

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of University Affairs, the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Transport and Communications are concerned with laying down the ground works of social and physical infrastructure and welfare for Thai society.

The Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy effectively keeps pace with accelerating developments in the country through modern technology, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs undertakes to strengthen friendly relations between Thailand and the outside world.

The head of career civil servants in each ministry is the permanent secretary, who has administrative control over all the departments of the ministry, each of which is headed by a director-general, also a career civil servant.

The Armed Forces
The Thai Armed Forces are divided into three branches: the Royal Thai Army (RTA), the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF). Thai soldiers are composed of professional career soldiers and conscripts. Every male aged between twenty-one and twenty-five is subject to two years of military service.

The King is Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forces and the cabinet is the instrument through which national security policy is formulated. The Defense Ministry co-ordinates the administration of the Armed Forces.

Thailand's fighting forces are governed by the Supreme Command Headquarters which is staffed by leaders of the Army, Navy and Air Force. Organized into divisions and combat regiments, the Royal Thai Army is divided into four army regions, covering Bangkok and the central Plains, the Northeast, the North and the South.

Thailand's naval fleet, though small, has always given a good account of itself. It perates primarily out of the sprawling, modern naval station at Sattahip, southeast of Bangkok. The Royal Navy has a marine corps, modelled on the American pattern, skilled in both amphibious and jungle operations.

The Royal Thai Air Force has its main base at Don Muang airport, adjacent to Bangkok's International Airport. The RTAF also has large air fields and facilities in the North and Northeast.

Recent Political Developments

General elections were held in Thailand on 17 November 1996 to elect 393 Members of Parliament. Altogether, as many as 13 different political parties participated in the elections They fielded a total of 2,310 candidates to compete for the 393 seats that were at stake, with each MP representing approximately 150,000 people. All Thai citizens over 18 years of age were eligible to cast their vote. Voter turn-out was 62.42 percent.

The outcome of the nation-wide elections saw the New Aspiration Party, headed by General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, emerge as the largest political party, winning a total of 125 seats. As a result, Gen. Chavalit was appointed Thailand's 22nd Prime Minister by Royal Command of H.M. the King, on 25 November 1996.

Prime Minister Chavalit has formed a six-party coalition government composed of the New Aspiration Party (125 seats), the Chart Pattana Party (52 seats), the Social Action Party (20 seats), the Prachakorn Thai Party (18 seats), the Seritham Party (4 seats) and the Muanchon Party (2 seats). Together, the coalition commands a strong majority in Parliament, occupying a total of 221 seats. The new Cabinet was announced on 29 November 1996.

The November 1996 elections marked the second time in succession that there has been a peaceful transition of power from one democratically elected government to another. This demonstrates that democratic principles in Thailand have grown stronger and are becoming institutionalized. 

After a decision taken by General Chavalit earlier to step down,  Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai as leader of the party with the second most seats in the lower house was appointed for the second time as Prime Minister of Thailand on November 9th 1997.  On November 14 with the support of five parties and dissident members of a six party PM Chuan  formed a coalition government with a small majority in the lower House of Representatives. 

On October 5th, 1998, Chat Pattana Party with 52 seats joined the government coalition and with Members of Parliament retiring, dying or joining other parties the Chuan Leekpai Administration presently holds 254 MP votes in the Thai Parliament. The Opposition with the leadership of New Aspiration Party's leader Gen. Chavalit Yongchaiyuth holds 129 MPs with 5 from the Thai Citizen Party.   In addition,  The Palang Dharma and Thai Party each have one MP in the parliament,  they both claim to be independent voting according to their beliefs. 

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