Contribution by Paul Bourgeois
23 year-old student at ESSCA.
“This subject is particularly important to me as I had the chance to live for 4 years in Bangkok and experience first-hand what this blogpost is about…
Thailand’s constitutional monarchy is one of the last in vigour in the world, but no aspect of the political horizon is actually controlled by the King.
In fact, the Royal Thai Government is governing the kingdom of Thailand. In 1932, they changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy where the prime minister is the head of government and the hereditary successor to the king is the head of state.
Multiple coups d’état have occurred throughout the years due to the political instability starting by the “Siam revolution” in 1932 which led to the abovementioned change in the constitution going from an absolute monarchy towards a constitutional one. The latest in date is the 2014 coup, which revoked the 2007 constitution.
Denouncing violence in the country and mostly corruption among the whole pyramid of government, Thai people were demonstrating against the government in place. The protesters wore yellow shirts because it is the King’s colour, and they were totally opposed to Thaksin Shinawatra’s policy. Thaksin Shinawatra is a Thai businessman and politician who has been chief of the police but also Prime minister of Thailand. Supporters of the government, called “red shirts”, are mainly the rural people which have been helped a lot with the 2007 constitution established by Thaksin Shinawatra even while he was in exile. Many protesters were coming from far away so the movements spread and it took a whole new sweep.
Both parties converging mainly to Bangkok, the simple demonstrations escalated quickly in confrontations and caused many incidents and human losses.
During the day of May 21th 2014, the military forces took control of the power and instituted a martial law in order to calm down the tensions in the country. That martial law implied many guidelines dictated from the general of the armies Prayuth Chan-Ocha. Soldiers were dispatched all over the television and radio stations in order to control the outgoing flow of information, some of them were even shut down. A special task force was created, which was called Peace Keeping Command Centre (PKCC) and was composed of navy air force and army soldiers and positioned at almost every big intersection in Bangkok, as the police during martial law did not have any power. Moreover, a curfew was enforced for an undefined period, shutting all restaurants, bars, nightclubs in downtown Bangkok at 10pm. The main objective of the army at this time was to stop the violence and convince protesters to go home in order to put an end to the Bangkok paralysis.
At the time the political intentions of the army were not clear, whether they wanted to appoint a new government or simply call for another general election. In fact, general Prayuth wanted to bring both parties to a peaceful talk and clarify the disagreement between the traditional monarchists and the ones that wanted change in their country in favour of democracy.
Prayuth chose to dissolve the parliament which was one of the main troublemakers in the corrupted system, with the aim of bringing back social peace.
In the following year, 2015, General Prayuth announced that he would call new elections to form a parliament and a government by the end of the year but it never happened. The martial law remained in place until mid 2019 when the elections finally took place. The new laws which were enforced by the army before the elections totally changed the rules of the game, as it was stipulating that the army, whatever the outcome of the elections could be, had 50% of the votes in the appointment of the prime minister. Consequently, General Prayuth, despite his 2nd rank at the elections, became Thailand’s prime minister but not only. He also is the defence minister and the Royal Police chief.
The situation in Thailand hasn’t really evolved, the army has now a very strong power, people can go to jail just because of a message on the social media and the human rights are regularly violated. The persons who got power are not the same than in 2014 but keep on being corrupted according to Thai public opinion.
I had the chance to exchange with my Thai friends and the situation seems not to disturb them as much as it did before. Of course, the citizens are tired of the constant changes and unforeseen developments, but unfortunately they got used to it.
To conclude, Thailand has been through much political instability during the past decade. Even with a lot of goodwill from some people, corruption and wrong decisions are still in our century running the country. Perhaps even more so than before. The position of the King only benefits the image of the country and hides the decisions of the government, whose main focus does not seem to be their citizens well-being.
This student blogpost was produced within the framework of the 3rd-year module « International Issues and Challenges » of ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Management, following a course design developed by the EU-Asia Institute. The opinions expressed are of course those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the institute.