From Absolute Monarchy to Parliamentary Democracy
The first Thai state, the Kingdom of Sukhothai (1257-1378), adopted a paternalistic form of government. The King, while enjoying absolute power, personally paid close attention to his subjects’ well-being. However, Sukhothai was a fragmented city-state and the lack of a centralised government led to its fall in the late 1300’s. Its decline coincided with the rise of the increasingly powerful Ayutthaya Kingdom to the South. During the Ayutthaya period, the power of the monarch rose, as Ayutthaya inherited a Khmer system of government based upon the Hindu concept of divine kingship. Under the reign of King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488), Ayutthaya’s political administration underwent a major reform. The sakdina, a feudal system which allowed almost everyone in the kingdom to hold land based on their rank, satisfying both nobles and commoners, lasted until the 19th century. Moreover, the civil and military administrations were separated and the government was centralised, making Ayutthaya one of Southeast Asia’s strongest and richest empires for three centuries.
The capital was moved to Bangkok in 1782, marking the beginning of the Rattanakosin period, which saw the continuation of the Ayutthaya system of government. Thus, for over three centuries, Thailand’s political administration was by and large carried out without drastic reform.
Nevertheless, by mid 1800’s, the threat of imperialism became a major issue. King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), seeing the need for political reform, decentralised the government. He carried out a major reorganisation of the central and local administrations, which formed the basis of the present system. The central government was further divided into a number of departments and the local administration was led by an appointed governor of each province. His administrative reform and rapid modernisation proved successful both in maintaining the country’s independence through the turbulent years of colonial threat and in providing a foundation for a modern system of government.
King Chulalongkorn’s successors, King Vajiravudh and King Prajadhipok, had a great interest in parliamentary democracy. However, some intellectuals, educated abroad, called for an immediate democratic transition. On 24 June 1932, they staged a bloodless coup, demanding the establishment of a constitutional monarchy. To avoid bloodshed, King Prajadhipok agreed to the abolition of absolute monarchy for the sake of his people, transferring power to a constitution-based system of government. On 10 December 1932, Thailand’s first constitution was signed.
The Political System of Thailand
The head of government is the Prime Minister. Under the constitution, the Prime Minister must be a member of parliament. The legislature could hold a vote of no-confidence against the Premier and members of his Cabinet if it had sufficient votes.
Under the new 2007 Constitution, the bicameral Thai legislature is called the National Assembly or informally, the Parliament. The Thai Parliament consists of a House of Representatives of 480 seats and a Senate of 150 seats.
The House of Representatives is made up of 400 members from constituency elections (Constituency MPs) and 80 members from proportional representation (Party-List MPs). The Senate is made up of 76 elected members (one for each province) and the rest (74) are selected from nominated candidates, from the academic sector, the public sector, the private sector, the professional sector and other sectors, by the Senate Selection Committee.
Members of the House of Representatives serve four-year terms, while Senators serve six-year terms.
Judges of the Supreme Court of Thailand are appointed by His Majesty the King. According to the 1997 Constitution, Section 249, all courts (e.g. provincial courts, juvenile courts) are not under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. There is also an independent Constitutional Court. There is a Court of Appeals, divided into districts and three (3) judges composing a court. Research judges assist the sitting judges. Judges must take an examination and two different examinations are given: one for judges trained in Thailand and the other for judges who graduate from foreign law schools. Trial courts of first instance (civil, criminal and kwaeng) are also staffed by judges. Labor Court judges are not necessarily lawyers and work for the Ministry of Labor. There is also an Intellectual Property And International Trade Court.