Thai Language Blog

Introduction to Thai Politics, in 700 words Posted by on Dec 1, 2013 in Culture, History, Thailand Politics

The story of modern Thai politics starts with the Siamese revolution of 1932, where republicans overthrew the monarchy and installed Thailands very first democracy. But although losing absolute power, the monarchy has always retained powerful supporters.

Pridi Panomyong, the man who led the first uprising and founder of Thammasat University. He was exiled to France.

The following 80 years of Thai politics consisted of non-stop back and forth power plays between the forces of the monarchy and of democracy. When an elected government becomes more powerful, a military coup approved and/or ordered by the monarchy overthrows it by force, imposing its own constitution guaranteeing significant powers and tax money for the monarchy.

There have been 17 successful military coups and 17 constitutions since 1932. On average, once every 4.8 years. Each military coup results in the elected leaders being imprisoned and/or put into exile, accused of ‘corruption’ and ‘dictatorship’. Occasionally the people fight back through protests, with each instance suppressed by violent military crackdowns (1973, 1976, 1992, 2009, twice in 2010). The current 2007 Constitution, a 309 article monstrosity, was written and imposed by the military, and denies freedom of speech while ensuring absolute power for the monarchy. They call it, “the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.”

Only the most recent political incident is fresh in the minds of Thai people, as education is rather poor and enforced censorship prevents the fully open teaching of these past events. This article itself is illegal by section 112 of the Thai criminal law, which protects the monarchy from all forms of criticism. Brainwashed since childhood, “all” Thais “love” their king – except those in prison for stating otherwise.

Thaksin Shinawatra was yet another elected Prime Minister that threatened the power of the monarchy, so like all before him he was accused of corruption and dictatorship (true or not it doesn’t matter), overthrown by a military coup ordered by the monarchy in 2006, and hence now lives in exile. But this time the internet and Youtube made imposed censorship very difficult (despite the mass arrests), and unlike exiled leaders of previous generations Thaksin has Skype to phone home.

Today you’ll see two main groups in the media, the ‘red shirts’ and the ‘yellow shirts’.


The red shirts comprise a complex mix of people with different beliefs: some worship the monarchy, some hate it; some worship Thaksin, some hate him; some are communist, some socialist, some capitalist; some just want Thaksin to return to power, while some truly want real democratic institutions reinstated. Most red shirts come from the poorer parts of society. They are close allies with Peua Thai, Thaksin’s political party, who has won all national elections since 2001 – a total of five.

The yellow shirts comprise of nationalists, royalists, and the traditional wealthy elite. They believe elections are not the answer because voters are too uneducated and are easily bought. They believe Thaksin is “the next Hitler,” a corrupt dictator trying to overthrow the monarchy using what they call, “the dictatorship of the majority.” Since their takeover of the national airport in 2008 they have changed their shirt color and name ~9 times. While they have lost every election and comprise a small minority of the population, their allies have significant extra-constitutional power – much guaranteed by the 2007 Constitution. Their goal is to restore the monarchy and install a mostly appointed government of ‘experts’ and ‘good people’. They are politically allied with the Democrat Party led by Abhisit Vejjajiva, who ordered the military to use live ammo and tanks to disperse those protesting against him in both 2009 and twice in 2010 – resulting in over 90 killed. He and his party have not won a national election in over 21 years.

As all judges of the high courts and the other “independent” organizations are appointed by the monarchy and military, ‘judicial coups’ have twice banned their entire opposition from politics, eventually putting Abhisit into power without an election. Abhisit lost power once elections were held in late 2010, when Peua Thai won by yet another landslide. Power has temporarily shifted back to the elected government, where the ‘unelectables’ continue to use undemocratic means to restore their power.

And here we are today, with no end in sight for the soap opera drama that is Thai politics.

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  1. Michael:

    I hear on February 2, there will be a new election. The Thais will likely elect the red party again, just like the Thai majority always does historically. I hope the minority of Thais who lose the election will respect the voice of the people and let the majority have a democracy this next time. It is the only peaceful way forward. Democracy makes Thailand one of the strongest and best countries in South-East Asia. I hope the best for Thailand. I hope for a long lasting democracy with peaceful elections used to put representatives in power.