Thai political history is marked by multiple stages of struggle among bureaucratic, military, and royalist elites, each marked by economic development progress and increases in popular participation.
Thailand was transformed from an absolute monarchy in 1932 into a constitutional monarchy after its 1932 revolution, yet questions over who ultimately holds sovereignty linger unresolved, provoking ongoing tension between establishment and anti-establishment forces.
Thai monarchy has long played an essential role in maintaining political stability and is also seen as an emblem of national identity and unity for Thai people.
The King is both spiritual leader and head of state in Thailand and revered by all Thai people despite having no political power or influence over politics.
Though monarchy has remained at the core of Thai politics, other institutions such as military and bureaucracy have played significant roles.
Thai society relied heavily on this triangle of traditional institutions to combat communism and develop their economy, however as the Cold War concluded and democracy took root it gradually began to weaken.
As a result, his authority began to diminish slowly.
In 1932, after a “democratic revolution”, a hybrid system combining parliamentary government with monarchical control emerged as the new ruling framework.
Once 1932 passed, Thailand entered a period of political instability. Coups occurred on occasion and the army continued to play an influential role in ousting governments.
Thai politics have developed substantially over time. In the 1980s, elections for parliaments were held.
Since 1992, power was transferred from monarchy to an elected National Assembly, which has enabled more people to engage with politics.
Since 1932’s revolution, military rule has remained dominant in Thai political life despite attempts at democratic reforms. Over the decades since, coups and juntas have abolished constitutions.
Thai culture and politics remain strongly under the king’s authority, although this has been compromised over time. Thai people find it increasingly difficult to support a ruler whose values and aspirations do not correspond with their own.
Since 1932’s coup that overthrew absolute monarchy, Thailand’s military has been its dominant political force. While they have played an essential role in Thai political history, their involvement is sometimes used to undermine democratic progress or establish authoritarian rule over Thai society.
Wise asserts that Thailand’s armed forces have long been seen as “an important instrument of state control.” Their philosophy holds that only strong and disciplined militaries can ensure public order and safeguard monarchy.
Although, military’s role in politics has long been debated both inside and outside parliament. According to popular belief, only an elected legislature is capable of creating laws which work for all its constituents, thus contributing to social harmony and equality.
Many anti-government protesters, particularly youth, view their government as corrupted by wealthy businesspeople and bureaucrats, and accuse it of buying votes and using illegal means to influence elections.
As a result, the military is increasingly being seen as ineffective at solving its nation’s issues. At the 2020 election, parties opposed to military rule won a combined 245 lower house seats but still controlled their chamber.
The 2019 elections were run under the auspices of Thailand’s Electoral Commission of Thailand (ECT), whose members were appointed solely by the military junta. Postelection changes made by ECT to its seat distribution formula reallocated seats won by opposition parties to small military-aligned groups supporting Prayuth Chan-ocha as Prime Minister.
The current military junta led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha remains an authoritarian regime characterized by former military leaders and promilitary party leaders who strongly back its policy agenda.
Thai politics has long been marked by military coups that have seen monarchies alternate with civilian governments; yet Thailand has managed to remain economically resilient over time.
Thailand was ruled for much of the first half of the 20th century by a bureaucratic elite and tradition-minded military, creating an unstable political environment marked by class clashes. These conflicts ultimately resulted in many coup attempts.
After the 1932 Revolution that introduced constitutional limits on monarchy, a written constitution was issued. Unfortunately, as political battles between bureaucrats and generals became more heated, constitutions were often altered or repealed altogether.
Over the next fifty years, Thailand was dominated by military juntas and political parties formed after coups. Over this timeframe, Thailand’s democratic institutions such as its courts and parliament became ever weaker.
This decline in democracy increased social polarization, particularly between pro- and anti-establishment political blocs. Pro-establishment groups were generally comprised of royal nationalist circles with members drawn from urban middle classes, trade unions and trade unionists as members; while anti-establishment forces included opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and various segments of academia.
Clashes between these two camps fueled an unprecedented level of polarization that continues to this day. While both groups strive to promote social cohesion and protect basic rights, their perspectives differ significantly when it comes to quarantine measures for infectious diseases or economic aid for the poor. Such attitudes have contributed to widespread corruption and inequality within society.
Authoritarianism has long dominated Thai politics. In the 1930s, young military officers staged a revolution to demand national reforms and the first written constitution. At that time, Thailand transitioned from hereditary monarchy to constitutional monarchy while leaving Thai sovereignty linked to monarchy – creating an ongoing source of tension within society and fueling political polarization ever since.
Thailand’s transition to democracy began with a regime change in 1932; however, an outstanding issue remains: which authority rests with the monarch or with his subjects? This uncertainty has fuelled tensions between his royal nationalist supporters and democratic forces who oppose it.
Polarization in Thailand stems from two opposing worldviews that advocate for incompatible political orders: royal nationalists view the monarch as legitimate leader while democratic adherents believe sovereignty resides with the people. This has resulted in violent clashes among various camps as well as damage to social cohesion throughout Thailand.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha has effectively held power in Thailand since May 2014 and currently acts as Prime Minister. Although in 2019 there were elections allowed under their regime, their electoral system was designed to favour their Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), formed after their 2014 coup d’etat.
Scholars of authoritarianism require new frameworks that account for non-traditional dynamics in authoritarian regimes and understand how autocrats seek democratic legitimacy while building relationships with nonmilitary actors. Such approaches could also help us better comprehend why Thailand currently suffers from authoritarianism and how it might return to democracy in future years.
Nationalism is a concept designed to unite people around a shared identity. At its core lies the belief that any given group deserves special consideration and their history should be found within its culture and traditions.
Nationalism’s rise has had an immense influence on Thailand’s political history and culture, and in its relationships with foreign powers.
Early in the 20th century, several important historians produced works advocating a nationalistic view of Thai history. These works stressed the importance of preserving and transmitting Thai cultural heritage while encouraging patriotism and loyalty towards their king.
Some historians were still attached to royalist traditions when studying history; other scholars adopted more democratic approaches like Prince Damrong Rajanuphap and Luang Wichit Wathakan who wrote books critical of military rule.
These scholars’ contributions facilitated the democratization of Thai history, creating an entirely new form of nationalist historiography in Thailand. Reconstructing monarch’s role within politics while shaping nationalistic discourse that depicted them as moral leaders who protected their country was another notable achievement of these scholars’ work.
This new nationalist narrative set out to establish an independent, transethnic and moral society accompanied by monuments, art, stamps, ceremonies and legends that all served to disseminate its ideals.
An essential aspect of Thai nationalist historiography was its belief in sacrificed ancestors who helped defend their nation – an idea which became part of Thai nationalist culture, becoming widely held belief and eventually myth.
As part of its democraticization process, Thailand has experienced increasing polarization between pro- and anti-establishment groups. These divisions have given rise to conflict between opposing worldviews that favor different political orders.