Political Parties

Political party development in Thailand has suffered several interruptions since the first legislation recognizing parties was passed in 1946. A series of subsequent authoritarian regimes banned political parties, and it was not until after 1992 that the party system began to deepen. Parties have not yet become strong, broad-based institutions, nor have they emerged naturally out of the ideological interests of citizens. Rather, Thailand’s political parties tend to be leadership-driven, centralized organizations that primarily function as electoral machines to secure political power. Intense factionalism and the Thai patronage system also plague the parties, allowing money politics to thrive. Thailand’s political parties, however, are in the midst of transition, and many party reformers have expressed a desire to break the cycle of corruption and strengthen political parties as democratic and accountable institutions.[i] In Thailand, the degree to which political parties are institutionalised is mostly low. Especially in recent years, numerous political parties disappeared from the political stage. The party system reflects societal divisions only to some extent, and the polarisation of 1992 between political parties that favour democracy and those that focus on maintaining the status quo is no longer there. Today’s political parties are hardly rooted in society, and especially outside Bangkok, their organisation is weak. Despite their low degree of institutionalisation, there are differences between the political parties. Thus, for example, the Chart Thai, which was founded in 1974, is rated as ‘law and order’ party which, in its time, supported Surinda and took part in quelling demonstrations. In 1997, Thaksin left the Palang Dharma Party which was founded in 1988 by Bangkok’s governor, the religious ascetic Chamlong, who gave the party its reputation of being ‘clean’. The only party with a longer tradition is the Democrat Party which was founded in 1946. Having supported the student protests of 1973 and the fight against Suchinda later on, it is considered the party with the highest degree of institutionalisation in Thailand. As early as 1997, there were plans to counteract the weak institutionalisation of the Thai political parties by amending the constitution. Related measures targeted instability, the deep fragmentation of the party system, and other matters. If we look at the elections of 2001 and 2005, however, the effect of the reform bills appears ambivalent: Having ‘bought’ numerous politicians and local leaders, the media moghul, Thaksin Shinawatra, and his party, the Thai Rak Thai (TRT), managed to win 248 out of 500 seats in the lower house elections of 2001. According to the 1997 and 2007 constitutions, the role of the Thai military is to protect and uphold the country’s independence, sovereignty, national security and the institution of the monarchy. Its duty is to protect the national interest and the democratic government, with the king as head of state. Therefore, concerns over military intervention in Thai politics are certainly justified, especially when it is claimed that such interventions could adversely affect the institution of the monarchy and national security. It can also be argued that many political crises have demonstrated the persistent characters of Thai politics: a strong military, weak political parties, personalised leadership, lack of “democratic consciousness” on the part of civil society and the general public, and the important role of rumours and opinions put out by the press, including the role of the so-called “Monarchy Network” in Thailand’s politics. This network played a dominant role during the past 10 years[ii]

Source :

[i] https://www.ndi.org/files/1681_asia_polparties_050404_0.pdf

[ii] Naruemon Thabchumpon, Thailand: contested politics and democracy, NOREF Report, 2012 https://www.ciaonet.org/attachments/21358/uploads  

Resources :

LINK : Thailand’s main political parties (Al Jazeera: 2011) LINK : Thailand – Political parties (1938-2001)-Nations Encyclopedia PDF : Thai Political Parties in the Age of Reform (Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee: 2006) LINK : Thai political parties sign up to a Code of Conduct before July elections (International IDEA: 2011)  

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