Modern Thailand came into existence when, in 1932, a civilian military group replaced the absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy.
Between 1938 and 1979 the majority of this period was dominated by military rule, although there were periods of democratic government. Since 1979 there have been two military coups, one in February 1991 until May 1992 after mass demonstrations and then again in 2006 until late 2007.
Following the earlier coup there was massive support for a new constitution which came into force in 1997 which confirmed Thailand as a parliamentary democracy.
In May 1992 the Democrat Party had led a five party coalition and then the Chart Thai Party won in 1995. But the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s had its impact and people were looking for a change.
This left an opportunity for wealthy telecommunications businessman Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Loves Thai (Thai Rak Thai – TRT) to come in on a populist theme. Thai Rak Thai won the 2001 general election with an overwhelming victory, taking 248 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives. They added to their score to give them a safe majority by merging with the New Aspiration Party with its 36 seats, giving them 286 seats.
Thaksin and his government were hugely popular with the poor rural classes for whom they introduced a number of reforms. This resulted in another massive victory in 2005 when the Thai Rak Thai party took 375 of the 500 seats available.
But questions were starting to be asked and eventually there were accusations of corruption and conspiracies. Thaksin refused to answer the allegations and the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) or the Yellow shirts, as they are often referred to, organised a series of demonstrations against the government.
Thaksin eventually dissolved parliament in the February 2006 and called fresh elections for 2nd April. The election was boycotted by every party except the Thai Rak Thai and they won 460 seats but in 40 seats they fell below the required threshold. This meant a constitutional crisis, as no seat could be left unfilled. The constitutional court voided the April elections and a new round of elections were called for the October.
Before those elections could be held, the military seized power on 19th September and the 1997 constitution was abrogated. Thaksin was in New York at the time and was charged with various corruption and fraud charges in his absence.
An interim civilian government was appointed and a new constitution, the 2007 constitution, was introduced after a referendum. On 30th May 2007 the Thai Rak Thai party was dissolved.
Fresh elections were then held on 23rd December 2007 which gave the successor to Thai Rak Thai, the People’s Power Party (PPP) 233 of 480 seats. The PPP were able to form a coalition government, but soon after the election there were claims of electoral fraud.
In December 2008 the PPP was dissolved by a Constitutional Court. Although they regrouped into the Pheu Thai party, their coalition partners crossed over to the Democrat Party and Abhisit Vejjajiva was able to form a new government.
Throughout 2008 and again in 2010 there have been protests by the so called Red shirts, a pro-Thaksin movement.
In 2011 Vejjajiva decided to call a fresh election for 3rd July and in that election Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and the Pheu Thai party won an impressive victory, taking 265 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives. The Thaksin clan faced protests once more as 2013 ended and fresh elections were called for February 2014. The Democratic Party boycotted the elections and the anti-government protesters managed to disrupt the election and prevent the poll in a number of seats.
Following further protests it was clear that fresh elections would have to be called, but before that could happen the military stepped in once more and on 22nd May 2014 a coup d’état saw the establishment of a military junta.
The junta has introduced a temporary constitution that grants the military absolute powers. A new unelected National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to replace the House of Representatives has been established and the junta leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, allowed the NLA to appoint him as Prime Minister.
The junta announced that fresh elections would held at the end of 2015 but that has now been moved back to 2017.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn is Head of State.
Thailand normally has a bicameral National Assembly consisting of the Senate with 150 seats of which 76 members are elected by popular vote representing 76 provinces and 74 are appointed by judges and independent government bodies elected to serve six-year terms.
The House of Representatives has 500 members elected to serve for four years. Both houses have been suspended and an unelected National Legislative Assembly (NLA) comprising 197 members, mainly former and serving military officers, has been imposed by the military junta.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Thailand at joint 101st out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 35 (where 100 is least corrupt).