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Thailand Main Page

 

Politics in Thailand 

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For most of it's history, Thailand had been ruled by absolute monarchs but that changed in 1932 when a revolution changed the ruling power to a constitutional monarchy.  Even with this change, the majority of the power was with the military until recently.

In 1997, a new constitution was put into effect, the country's sixteenth, that was formulated with public opinion as well as incorporating a bill of rights guaranteeing that all citizens are equal.

The Thai head of state and armed forces commander in chief, although he doesn't have much direct power, is the king.  In spite of this lack of power, he is able to influence the political leaders in Thailand.  The chief executive official is the prime minister, who heads the cabinet. 

Since the 1997 constitutional change, there have been legislative changes as well.  Senators are now to be directly elected to their four-year terms, whereas before the new constitution the military appointed them.  Representatives are directly elected also for their four-year terms in the National Assembly.  The National Assembly has the legislative power in Thailand and is comprised of the House of Representatives (with 500 members) and the Senate (with 245 members).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Country name:
conventional long form: Kingdom of Thailand
conventional short form: Thailand
local long form: Ratcha Anachak Thai
local short form: Prathet Thai
former: Siam
Government type:
constitutional monarchy
Capital:
name: Bangkok
geographic coordinates: 13 45 N, 100 31 E
time difference: UTC+7 (12 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions:
76 provinces (changwat, singular and plural); Amnat Charoen, Ang Thong, Buriram, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri, Chumphon, Kalasin, Kamphaeng Phet, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Krung Thep Mahanakhon (Bangkok), Lampang, Lamphun, Loei, Lop Buri, Mae Hong Son, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Narathiwat, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Pattani, Phangnga, Phatthalung, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phetchaburi, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Phrae, Phuket, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Roi Et, Sa Kaeo, Sakon Nakhon, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Sara Buri, Satun, Sing Buri, Sisaket, Songkhla, Sukhothai, Suphan Buri, Surat Thani, Surin, Tak, Trang, Trat, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Yala, Yasothon
Independence:
1238 (traditional founding date; never colonized)
National holiday:
Birthday of King PHUMIPHON (BHUMIBOL), 5 December (1927)
Constitution:
24 August 2007
Legal system:
based on civil law system with influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage:
18 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branch:
chief of state: King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet, also spelled BHUMIBOL Adulyadej (since 9 June 1946)
head of government: Prime Minister ABHISIT Wetchachiwa, also spelled ABHISIT Vejjajiva (since 17 December 2008); Deputy Prime Minister SANAN Kachornprasat, also spelled SANAN Kachornparsart (since 7 February 2008); Deputy Prime Minister SUTHEP Thueaksuban, also spelled SUTHEP Thaugsuban (since 22 December 2008); Deputy Prime Minister TRAIRONG Suwannakhiri (since 18 January 2010)
cabinet: Council of Ministers
(For more information visit the World Leaders website Opens in New Window)
note: there is also a Privy Council advising the king
elections: the monarchy is hereditary; according to 2007 constitution, the prime minister elected from among members of House of Representatives; following national elections for House of Representatives, the leader of the party positioned to organize a majority coalition usually becomes prime minister by appointment by the king; the prime minister limited to two four-year terms
Legislative branch:
bicameral National Assembly or Rathasapha consisted of the Senate or Wuthisapha (150 seats; 76 members elected by popular vote representing 76 provinces, 74 appointed by judges and independent government bodies; members serve six-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon (480 seats; 400 members elected from 157 multi-seat constituencies and 80 elected on proportional party-list basis of 10 per eight zones or groupings of provinces; members serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held on 2 March 2008 (next to be held in March 2014); House of Representatives - last election held on 23 December 2007 (next to be held by December 2011)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - PPP 233, DP 164, TNP 34, Motherland 24, Middle Way 11, Unity 9, Royalist People's 5; following the PPP's dissolution in December 2008, most of the party's seats were assumed by its successor, the Phuea Thai Party
note: 74 senators were appointed on 19 February 2008 by a seven-member committee headed by the chief of the Constitutional Court; 76 senators were elected on 2 March 2008; elections to the Senate are non-partisan; registered political party members are disqualified from being senators
Judicial branch:
Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, and Supreme Administrative Court; all judges are appointed by the king; the king's appointments to the Constitutional Courtare made upon the advice of the Senate; the nine Constitutional Court judges are drawn from the Supreme Court of Justice and Supreme Administrative Court as well as from among substantive experts in law and social sciences outside the judiciary
Political parties and leaders:
Chat Thai Phattana Party or CP (Thai Nation Development Party) [CHUMPON Silpa-archa]; Democrat Party or DP (Prachathipat Party) [ABHISIT Wetchachiwa, also spelled ABHISIT Vejjajiva]; Motherland Party (Phuea Phaendin Party) [CHANCHAI Chairungrueng]; Phuea Thai Party (For Thais Party) or PTP [YONGYUTH Wichaidit]; Phumjai (Bhumjai) Thai Party or PJT (Thai Pride) [CHAWARAT Chanvirakun]; Royalist People's Party (Pracharaj) [SANOH Thienthong]; Ruam Jai Thai Party (Thai Unity Party) [WANNARAT Channukun]
Political pressure groups and leaders:
People's Alliance for Democracy or PAD; United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship or UDD
International organization participation:
ADB, APEC, ARF, ASEAN, BIMSTEC, BIS, CICA, CP, EAS, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NAM, OAS (observer), OIC (observer), OIF (observer), OPCW, OSCE (partner), PCA, PIF (partner), UN, UNAMID, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNMIS, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Kittiphong Na RANONG
chancery: 1024 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20007
telephone: [1] (202) 944-3600
FAX: [1] (202) 944-3611
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Kristie A. KENNEY
embassy: 120-122 Wireless Road, Bangkok 10330
mailing address: APO AP 96546
telephone: [66] (2) 205-4000
FAX: [66] (2) 254-2990, 205-4131
consulate(s) general: Chiang Mai
Flag description:
five horizontal bands of red (top), white, blue (double width), white, and red; the red color symbolizes the nation and the blood of life; white represents religion and the purity of Buddhism; blue stands for the monarchy
note: similar to the flag of Costa Rica but with the blue and red colors reversed
National anthem:
name: "Phleng Chat Thai" (National Anthem of Thailand)
lyrics/music: LUANG Saranuprapan/PHRA Jenduriyang
note: music adopted 1932, lyrics adopted 1939; by law, people are required to stand for the national anthem at 0800 and 1800 every day; the anthem is played in schools, offices, theaters, and on television and radio during this time; "Phleng Sansasoen Phra Barami" (A Salute to the Monarch) serves as the royal anthem and is played in the presence of the royal family and during certain state ceremonies

 

 


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