Speech on Historical Evolution of Thai democracy

(Part 1 of the speech on “The Current Situation of the Thai Constitutional Law” by the President of the Thai Constitutional Court

27 May 2002,  Bonn, Germany

Our statement will be divided in two parts. Part one deal with the historical evolution of Thai democracy. Part two deals with the situation of Thai Constitutional Law at the present time

Part 1 Historical evolution of Thai democracy

Thailand had been under an absolute monarchy for more than ten centuries.

On the 24th of June 1932, a group of Thai young men called “The people party” led by young men including civilians and military officers who had studied in France and other European countries undertook the COup d’ Etat which resulted in the promulgation of the temporary Constitution of the Kingdom of Siam by King Rama VII on 27 June 1932 marking the end of the absolute monarchy. On the following day, the provisional cabinet of ministers consisting of the leader of the Coup was appointed by His Majesty the king under the provisional constitution.

On December 10 of that year, the new Constitution was promulgated by the King on the recommendation of the government. Under this constitution, the political system was a parliamentary system with one house. However, the Constitution contained the transitional provision stating that “during a period of ten years following the day constitution on took effects, the House of Representatives shall consist of two categories of members category one and category two.” Members of category one consisted of those elected by the people. Category two consisted of those appointed by the King on the recommendation of the government. The number of members of each category was equal.

The transitional provision was justified by the fact that at the beginning of the new regime, the majority of Thai people were illiterate. This would create serious problems for them to perform their duty. Therefore, members of the house should be assisted by members selected by the executive among persons who had received high education with experience in the government service.

Unfortunately, soon after the promulgation of the constitution, there were some circumstances that were detrimental to the development of our democracy. In 1993, there was Coup d’Etat led by general prince Borvorndet, which was retired from the army. The army troops were sent from the northeast region to the capital. After the bloody fighting between the government forces and forces of the rebel, the rebel surrendered.

As a result of this event, leaders of the army participated actively in politics. Some of them were appointed members of category two of the House of Representatives. Some were appointed ministers.

Generally speaking, we can say that from that time until the end of the second world war, there was no real democracy in Thailand.

It should be noted that during the second world war, Thailand under the government headed by field marshal Pibul Songkram taking part with the Japanese side declared war against Great Britain and the United States. Such attitude was contrary to the intention of the majority of Thai people. Therefore, the underground movement was organized for resisting Japan and supporting alliance forces. This movement which is known as the Free Thai movement was led by Dr. Pridi Banomyong, one of the leaders of the Coup in 1932. After the end of the second world war, the alliance recognized Thailand as a country that collaborated with them. This is why Thailand was not occupied by the alliance forces.

Due to changes in the political situation in Thailand as stated above, the army withdrew from the political arena.

After the general election in 1946, the House of Representatives appointed a committee to draft a new constitution. The committee submitted the draft to the House of Representatives for deliberation. The draft was then approved by the House of Representatives. It was promulgated by His Majesty King Rama VIII on May 10, 1946.

The constitution of 1946 differed from the constitution of 1932 on several points of view. Firstly, under the constitution of 1946, the parliament consisted of two chambers. The House of Representatives was the lower house while the Senate was the upper House. Members of the House of Representatives were elected by the people. As for members of the Senate they were elected by members of the Lower House.  Secondly, while the constitution of 1932 did not prohibit a person to combine the position of members of parliament with that of the government permanent staff, such practice was contrary to the constitution of 1946. Thirdly, the constitution of 1946 established the Constitutional Council which was the new constitutional organ. The Constitutional Tribunal (Council) had the authority to rule whether or not any selection of the act is contrary to the constitution.

Unfortunately, one year later, there was a military coup d’Etat which resulted in the promulgation of the new provisional constitution of 1947 followed by the permanent constitution of 1949.

From that time to 1997, there were several coups d’Etat. Sometimes the conflict between military leaders was the origin of the Coup. Therefore, during this period, the military influence in the political area was so great.

On the 23rd of February 1991,  there was the military coup d’ Etat again which resulted in the promulgation of the temporary constitution of 1991 and the overthrowing of the government of general Chatchai Chunhavan.

The new constitution was promulgated in December 1991. Later on, the general election of members of the House of Representatives was held. After the election, several political parties supported General Suchinda Krapayoon, commander in chief of the army and a former leader of the coup d’ Etat to be prime minister. However, Thai people, in general, did not agree with that support for the reason that he had told newspaper correspondents that he did not want to be a candidate for the premiership.

However, he accepted the proposal of the Coalition parties and was appointed prime minister by His Majesty the King (King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX) on the recommendation of the president of the House of Representatives. People who did not agree with such  appointment organized public assembling for demonstrating against him. They required that general Suchinda resigns from the premiership. The government proclaimed the state of emergency and used military forces to suppress the demonstrators. Many of them were killed by the soldiers. Under this circumstance, His Majesty the King suggested all parties concerned settle the dispute peacefully. Finally, General Suchinda resigned from the premiership. His Majesty the King appointed Mr. Ananda Punyarachum prime mister on the recommendation of the president of the House of representatives.

Later on, the Royal decree on the dissolution of the House of Representatives was promulgated by His Majesty the King on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.

After the general election, the government of the coalition headed by Mr. Chuan Leekpai had been appointed by His Majesty the King. Since then the political situation in Thailand has become stable.

In 1997, the parliament adopted the new constitution drafted by the Constitutional Assembly whose members were elected by the House of Representatives. This constitution is more advanced than those previously adopted and represents the view and reaction of Thai people against the military dictators.

In concluding, we can say that the road to the Thai present National Constitution which is the Supreme Law of the land and the Thai Democracy is a rough and rugged one.