Thailand: Where Coups Still Rule

BY LEE HAN SHIH
Apr 04, 2009
*Special to asia!

The Thais take pride in being the only Asian country that has never been invaded by a foreign power, while always maintaining her sovereignty.

This is true if you ignore the inconvenient fact that Thailand came under Japanese control (which allowed her to keep her monarchy) during WWII.

The flip side of being never been invaded is that its generals and admirals have no one to fight but themselves. And that, they do a lot of.

Since the establishment of the constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has gone through 17 charters and constitutions. Almost all are the result of coups, whose leaders tried to rewrite the supreme law of the country to suit their purposes.

This has averaged one every five years. Things got somewhat better in the 1990s, during which Thailand, after one particularly bloody revolt, moved onto to a more democratic platform that effectively eroded much of the power of the generals.

Nevertheless the military is still the best way to the top, either through the long route of working up step by step; or the short one, in other words, an insurgency. In September 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra, then prime minister, was ousted in a coup so bloodless that business carried on as usual in Bangkok and people wandered around the streets to have their pictures taken with soldiers in tanks.

Thaksin was corrupt and had most likely rigged the polls to stay on in power. But the fact that he was deposed by yet another military uprising, no matter how peaceful, is a big step backwards for the country’s transition to the rule of law and the rule of the people. There are also reports – hard to confirm in such circumstances – of human rights violation. Perhaps there are no other ways to get Thaksin out of the way, but whether the end really justifies the means remains a highly debatable point among academics, social commentators and the people at large.


List of Charters and Constitutions of Thailand since 1932

1. Temporary Charter for the Administration of Siam Act 1932
2. The Constitution of the Siam Kingdom 1932
3. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1946
4. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Temporary) 1947
5. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1949
6. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1932 (Revised 1952)
7. Charter for the Administration of the Kingdom 1959
8. Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1968
9. Temporary Charter for Administration of the Kingdom 1972
10. Constitution for the Administration of the Kingdom 1974
11. Constitution for Administration of the Kingdom 1976
12. Charter for Administration of the Kingdom 1977
13. Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1978
14. Charter for Administration of the Kingdom 1991
15. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1991
16. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand 1997
17. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand (Interim) 2006


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

 

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