THAILAND POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

THAILAND POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Since the political reform of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has had 17 constitutions and charters. Throughout this time, the form of government has ranged from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, but all governments have acknowledged a hereditary monarch as the head of state.

28th of June 1932
Prior to 1932, the Kingdom of Siam did not possess a legislature, as all legislative powers were vested within the person of the monarch. This has been the case since the foundation of the Sukhothai Kingdom in the 12th century: as the king was seen as a “Dharmaraja” or “King who rules in accordance with Dharma” (the Buddhist law of righteousness). However on the 24 June 1932 a group of civilians and military officers, calling themselves the Khana Ratsadon (or People’s Party) carried out a bloodless revolution, in which the 150 years of absolute rule of the House of Chakri was ended. In its stead the group advocated a constitutional form of monarchy with an elected legislature.

The “Draft Constitution” of 1932 signed by King Prajadhipok, created Thailand’s first legislature, a People’s Assembly with 70 appointed members. The assembly met for the first time on the 28 June 1932, in the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall. The Khana Ratsadon decided that the people were not yet ready for an elected assembly; however they later changed their minds. By the time the “permanent” constitution came into force in December of that year, elections were scheduled for the 15 November 1933. The new constitution also changed the composition of the assembly to 78 directly elected and 78 appointed (by the Khana Ratsadon) together comprising 156 members.

1997 to 2006
The 1997 Constitution was the first constitution to be drafted by popularly elected Constitutional Drafting Assembly, and was popularly called the “People’s Constitution”. The 1997 Constitution created a bicameral legislature consisting of a 500-seat House of Representatives (??????????????¸, sapha phutaen ratsadon) and a 200-seat Senate (???????, wuthisapha). For the first time in Thai history, both houses were directly elected.
Many human rights are explicitly acknowledged, and measures were established to increase the stability of elected governments. The House was elected by the first past the post system, where only one candidate with a simple majority could be elected in one constituency. The Senate was elected based on the province system, where one province can return more than one senator depending on its population size.

The two houses of the National Assembly have two different terms. In accordance with the constitution the Senate is elected to a six year term, while the House is elected to a four year term. Overall the term of the National Assembly is based on that of the House. The National Assembly each year will sit in two sessions an “ordinary session” and a “legislative session”. The first session of the National Assembly must take place within thirty days after the general election of the House of Representatives. The first session must be opened by the king in person by reading a Speech from the Throne; this ceremony is held in the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall. He may also appoint the crown prince or a representative to carry out this duty. It is also the duty of the king to prologue sessions through a Royal Decree when the House term expires. The king also has the prerogative to call extraordinary sessions and prolong sessions at his discretion.

The National Assembly may host a “Joint-sitting” of both Houses under several circumstances. These include: The appointment of a regent, any alteration to the 1924 Palace Law of Succession, the opening of the first session, the announcement of policies by the Cabinet of Thailand, the approval of the declaration of war, the hearing of explanations and approval of a treaty and the amendment of the Constitution.
Members of the House of Representatives served four-year terms, while senators served six-year terms. The 1997 People’s Constitution also promoted human rights more than any other constitutions. The court system (???, saan) included a constitutional court with jurisdiction over the constitutionality of parliamentary acts, royal decrees, and political matters.

The January 2001 general election, the first election under the 1997 Constitution, was called the most open, corruption-free election in Thai history. The subsequent government was the first in Thai history to complete a four-year term. The 2005 election had the highest voter turnout in Thai history. Despite efforts to clean up the system, vote buying and electoral violence remained problems of electoral quality in 2005.
The PollWatch Foundation, Thailand’s most prominent election watchdog, declared that vote buying in this election, specifically in the North and the Northeast, was more serious than in the 2001 election. The organization also accused the government of violating the election law by abusing state power in presenting new projects in a bid to seek votes.

2006 coup d’état

Without meeting much resistance, a military junta overthrew the interim government of Thaksin Shinawatra on 19 September 2006. The junta abrogated the constitution, dissolved Parliament and the Constitutional Court, detained and later removed several members of the government, declared martial law, and appointed one of the king’s Privy Counselors, General Surayud Chulanont, as the Prime Minister. The junta later wrote a highly abbreviated interim constitution and appointed a panel to draft a permanent constitution. The junta also appointed a 250-member legislature, called by some critics a “chamber of generals” while others claimed that it lacks representatives from the poor majority.

In this interim constitution draft, the head of the junta was allowed to remove the prime minister at any time. The legislature was not allowed to hold a vote of confidence against the cabinet and the public was not allowed to file comments on bills. This interim constitution was later surpassed by the permanent constitution on 24 August 2007.
Martial law was partially revoked in January 2007. The ban on political activities was lifted in July 2007,[33] following the 30 May dissolution of the Thai Rak Thai party. The new constitution has been approved by a referendum on 19 August, which led to a return to democratic elections on 23 December 2007.

Political crisis
The People’s Power Party (Thailand), led by Samak Sundaravej formed a government with five smaller parties. Following several court rulings against him in a variety of scandals, and surviving a vote of no confidence, and protesters blockading government buildings and airports, in September 2008, Sundaravej was found guilty of conflict of interest by the Constitutional Court of Thailand (due to being a host in a TV cooking program), and thus, ended his term in office.

He was replaced by PPP member Somchai Wongsawat. As of October 2008, Wongsawat was unable to gain access to his offices, which were occupied by protesters from the People’s Alliance for Democracy. On December 2, 2008, Thailand’s Constitutional Court in a highly controversial ruling found the Peoples Power Party  guilty of electoral fraud, which led to the dissolution of the party according to the law. It was later alleged in media reports that at least one member of the judiciary had a telephone conversation with officials working for the Office of the Privy Council and one other. The phone call was taped and has since circulated on the Internet. In it, the callers discuss finding a way to ensure the ruling PPP party would be disbanded. Accusations of judicial interference were levelled in the media but the recorded call was dismissed as a hoax. However, in June 2010, supporters of the eventually disbanded PPP were charged with tapping a judge’s phone.

Immediately following what many media described as a “judicial coup”, a senior member of the Armed Forces met with factions of the governing coalition to get their members to join the opposition and the Democrat Party was able to form a government, a first for the party since 2001. The leader of the Democrat party, and former leader of the opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed and sworn-in as the 27th Prime Minister, together with the new cabinet on 17 December 2008.
Thailand remains an active member of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations).

As of April 2010, a set of new violent protests by the Red Shirt opposition movement, possibly backed financially by fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, have resulted in 87 deaths (mostly civilian and some military) and 1,378 injured.[36] When the army tried to disperse the protesters on April 10, 2010, the army was met with automatic gunfire, grenades, and fire bombs from the opposition faction in the army, known as the “watermelon”. This resulted in the army returning fire with rubber bullets and some live ammunition. During the time of the “red shirt” protests against the government, there have been numerous grenade and bomb attacks against government offices and the homes of government officials. Grenades were fired at protesters, that were protesting against the “red shirts” and for the government, by unknown gunmen killing one pro-government protester, the government stated that the Red Shirts protesters were firing the weapons at civilians. However, the police later stated the path of the grenades and amunitions was from the Chulalongkorn Hospital, which the army was occupying.

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