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 Home > About Thailand > The Arts > Government and Politics


Thailand's governmental structure has undergone gradual and practical evolution in response to the changing environment. The Kingdom of Sukhothai (1257-1378A.D.) adopted the paternalistic system of government. The King, while enjoying absolute sovereign power, would, like a father, look after his subjects and personally paid close attention to their well-being.

The Ayutthaya kingdom inherited extensive Khmer traditions and customs, including their system of government with the kings as demigods. A major indigenous development in the governing system during the reign of King Barommatrailokanat (1448-1488) left behind a clear division between the civil and military administration and a strong centralized government.

The succeeding Ratanakosin Kingdomestablished in 1767 in Bangkok also adopted the Ayutthaya system and government structure. Thus, for over three centuries, the basic pattern of the administration of the country was by and large carried out without drastic changes in term of reorganization.

In face of the threatening advance of colonialism, King Rama V or King Chulalongkorn the Great(1868-1910) carried out major reorganization of the central, regional and local administrations. which formed the basis of the present system. His administrative reform and rapid drive for the country's modernization proved successful both in maintaining the country's independence throughout the turbulent years of the western colonial threat and in providing a foundation for the modern system of government.

Changes 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 (RamaVII) agreed to the abolition of absolute monarchy and the transfer of power to the constitution-based system of government as demanded. To some, this demand was premature, but thanks to the far- Sightedness of King Prajadhipok and his predecessors in particular King Chulalongkorn the Great (Rama V) and King Vajiravudh (RamaVI), Thailand was not unprepared for this transition. While continuing the process launched by the two previous kings, King Prajadhipok had every intention of accustoming the Thais to the Western system of constitutional monarchy and had considered the eventuality of altering the form of government at an appropriate moment. Popular readiness, he believed, was an important ingredient to success for such transition It was only the matter of waiting for the right time.

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 constitutional government and monarchy laid down in the 1932 constitution have remained unaltered.

Major Ingredients in Thai Policies

The first and foremost concept is the status of the monarch as Head of Armed Forces and Upholder of the Buddhist Religion and all other religions. Every constitution provides that the monarch is sacred and inviolable in his person. His sovereign power emanates from the people, and as Head of State, he exercises his legislative power through the 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 the 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,half of whom were elected by popular vote (the Lower House), the other half (the Upper House or Senate) being appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers (now called the cabinet).

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

The cabinet is responsible for the administration of twelve ministries, as well as the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of State Universities. Each ministry is politically headed by a minister with one or more deputy ministers, all of whom will sit in the cabinet. A number of cabinet committees have been set up consisting of relevant ministers, such as the Cabinet Economic Committee and the Cabinet Social Committee, to coordinate major policies concerned.This development 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 giving approval or disapproval to that project or policy and spare itself time to consider other matters.

Besides the ministers responsible for each ministry, there are a number of ministers holding the portfolio of "Minister Attached to the Prime Minister's Office." They take charge of various responsibilities undertaken by this office which in itself ranks as a ministry and is largely concerned with formulating the national policy. One of its primary subdivisions, the Budget Bureau, prepares the nation's annual budget. The National Economic and Social Development Board lays out longer-term development planning. The Juridical Council provides expert assistance in drafting laws and gives ruling on questions concerning administrative law. It remains quite distinct from the Justice Ministry, which administers laws after they are promulgated. The Board of Investment (BoI), which provides incentives for investment, comes under the responsibility of the Prime Minister's Office, with the Prime Minister being the Chairman of the Board. Several other organizations vital to the formulation of national policy such as the National Statistical Office,the Technical and Economic Co-operation Department and the Office of the National Education Commission also fall under the responsibility of the Prime Minister's Office.

At a time when 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 Industry and the Ministry of Commerce play an important role in the Thai Government. The former's functions include the formulation of manufacturing and mining policy, the licensing of factories and mineral leases, the formulation and supervision of industrial standards, the provision of technical assistance (especially to small-scale industries),and supervision of the Small Industries Finance Office.

The Ministry of Commerce regulates external and internal trade. This includes control or supervision of prices for certain strategic commodities such as rice,temporary restraints on a narrow range of imports (in co-operation with the BoI), and the provision of export promotion services.

The Interior Ministry to which all local administrators are attached, is the largest ministry. Its departments include Local Administration, Accelerated Rural Development, Public Works, Town and Country Planning, Public Welfare, Community Development, Land, and Labor.

The Police Department,which forms a major part of the Interior Ministry, is one of the largest government ministerial departments. The Police Department is divided into three forces and a number of smaller units. The Metropolitan Police Force is concerned with crime prevention and suppression, traffic control and, through the Police Fire Brigade, with firefighting in the Greater Bangkok Metropolis. The Provincial Police Force is organized into four regional headquarters which operate throughout the rest of the country. The third force is the Border Patrol Police, an elite force established in 1951 to prevent insurgent infiltration and maintain peace and security in border areas. The Police Department also includes the division responsible for matters concerning immigration and visas.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives covers fisheries and forestryas well as farming. Its Co-operatives Promotion Department has gained increasing importance in recent years by providing farmers with opportunities to work together, pool resources, and take advantage of economies of scale.

The Communications Ministry controls aviation, harbors, highways,land transport, post , telegraph and telecommunications (including satellite microwave transmission), and the national meteorological network.

The Education Ministry, in addition to running elementary and secondary schools and teacher training programs, is in charge of Fine Arts and Religious Affairs, the latter being a very important assignment in a country where religion retains a major influence in public affairs.

The Ministries of Defence, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Public Health effectively keep pace with accelerating developments in their areas of authority. The head of care 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 Forced are divided into three branches: the Royal Thai Army (RTA), Royal Thai Navy (RTN) and Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF). The Thai soldiers are composed of professional cover soldiers and those recruited by conscription. Every male aged twenty is subject to two years military service. Students are allowed deferments until they have graduated.

The King is Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Armed Forced and the Cabinet is the instrument through which national security policy is formulated. A National Security Council, composed of a number of ministers, is charged with coordinating the maintenance of national security.

The Defence Ministry coordinates administration of the armed forces. The expenditures of the Defense Ministry are among the greatest of any ministry, absorbing a large proportion of the total national budget. 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 in accordance with regional geography ; the First Army Region protects the Bangkok Metropolis and its surrounding provinces, the Second protects the Northeast, the Third protects the country's northern region and the Fourth the southern extremities.

Thailand's naval fleet, though small, has always given a good account of itself. It operates primarily out of the sprawling, modern naval station at Sattahip, southeast of Bangkok. The Royal Navy has a marine corps, modeled 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 at Nakon Ratchasima Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani and Takhli.

Judiciary and Justice Administration

Founded upon the concept of a civil law system, Thai justice administration as well as its machinery is organized through written legislation. All case proceedings, law execution and justice safeguarding must solemnly conform to the laws promulgated, including all governmental rules and decrees.

According to the Law Governing Court Organization of 1934, three level of courts were established, i.e., the Courts of First Instance, the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. There are about 135 Courts of First Instance throughout the kingdom. In Bangkok Metropolis, they are composed of the Civil Court, the Criminal Court, the Central Juvenile Court, including Kwaeng Courts which have jurisdiction over small cases. In the provinces, they are composed of the Provincial Courts, the Provincial Juvenile Courts and Kwaeng Courts.

The Courts of Appeal, consist of one Bangkok-based Court of Appeal and three Regional Courts of Appeal. There is one Supreme Court with jurisdiction to review and adjudicate all case, and the Court's judgments are final. However, in criminal cases the accused may petition His Majesty the King for clemency.

Democracy and Thailand

The changes brought about by the successive monarchs and by the 1932 introduction of democracy and constitutional monarchy took a long time to gain the attention of the majority of the citizenry, as the Kingdom encompassed such a vast area with millions of its population living in the countryside. To the majority of the Thais, the changes in the capital, where royal countries in the administration were replaced by a new power structure comprising civil service officials and military officers, meant relatively little. Their basic life style was not affected. Successive shifts in power that followed did not cause a great change in the placid surface of their daily life.

During almost six decades of constitutional democracy, the concept, initially alien to the majority of the people and remaining so for a few decades afterwards, has undergone a long process of refinement and reconceptualization in order to adapt the democratic system to the specific needs of the Thai nation.

On 23 February 1991, the National Peace Keeping Council (NPKC), led by General Sundhorn Kongsompong, the Supreme Commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, took over the administration of the country with the objective of strengthening democratic processes through a revised constitution. The takeover of administration was peaceful and widely endorsed by the people and the media.

Instead of retaining power in their hands, as may occur in other countries, the NPKC promulgated a provisional constitution and, after a very brief period, paved way for a civilian interim government headed by Mr. Anand Panyarachun, a bureaucrat-turned-businessman. The majority of the new cabinet was composed of well-respected, experienced technocrats who were well known for their liberal thinking and belief in democracy. The interim government was entrusted with the task of administering the country until a new Constitution is promulgated and a general election is held, scheduled for early 1992.

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