Thailand, which is formerly known as Siam, is a country made up of 76 provinces which sits centrally in the Southeast Asian Indochinese peninsula. Thailand is 198,120 square miles in size with a population of over 68 million people, and as such is the world's 50th largest country and the 21st most-populous. The capital city is Bangkok – it also holds the title of largest city in the country. Thailand shares borders with Myanmar and Laos (north), Laos and Cambodia (east), the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia (south), and the Andaman Sea and Myanmar (west); it also shares water borders with Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand (southeast), and Indonesia and India on the Andaman Sea (southwest). Since 2014, Thailand has been a de facto military dictatorship.
Thailand’s government is essentially a parliament-based constitutional monarchy under the control of a military junta. The country is a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; it is a major ally of the USA and is a regional power in Southeast Asia, as well as a middle power in global affairs. Increased levels of manufacturing, agriculture, and tourism have elevated Thailand to become classified as a newly-industrialized economy.
How is government structured?
Thailand features a constitutional monarchy, in which the Prime Minister is head of the government and a monarch is head of state. Normally Thailand’s government is divided into three branches (executive, legislative and judiciary, with the judiciary usually independent of the former two branches, though recent rulings appear to be founded more on political agendas than established law. The Thailand judiciary branch is made up of four systems: the Military Court, the Court of Justice system, the Administrative Court system, and the Constitutional Court.
Thailand’s government has varied substantially in form since 1932 – 20 constitutions and charters have been in place since then, right up the latest one in 2017, resulting in Thailand having the fourth most coups in the world. Yet despite the government frequently changing from dictatorships to election-based democracies (and back again), the hereditary monarch has always been acknowledged as the head of state. All three branches of the government are based in Bangkok.
The Prime Minister head up the Cabinet of Thailand, which is made up of 35 ministers of state and deputy ministers – 20 cabinet ministries are currently in operation. The Cabinet oversees the effective execution of government policies and practices in Thailand.
From 2007, the Constitution of Thailand was structured around a National Assembly made up of the Senate (the upper house with 150 members) and the House of Representatives (the lower house with 500 members). Seventy-six Senate members are elected, one for each of the 75 provinces of Thailand and one for the Bangkok Metropolitan Area; the remaining 74 are selected by the Senate Selection Commission. The House of Representatives includes 500 members, with 375 of the MPs elected directly from constituencies around the country and the other 125 selected using proportional representation.
However, the 2014 coup overturned this system, partially repealing the 2007 constitution and replacing it with a unicameral National Legislative Assembly. The coup also resulted in the declaration of martial law and a nationwide curfew, the banning of political gatherings, the arrest of politicians and anti-coup activists, internet censorship and loss of control of the free media.
Who’s in charge?
Thailand is currently ruled by King Vajiralongkorn (or Rama X), who has been in power since October 2016. According to the Thai constitution, the sovereignty of the state is vested in the people, but the king exercises his powers through the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the Thai government. As with many monarchies, the king has very little political power or sway, acting instead as a figurehead for the country. The monarch is required to be Buddhist, but also acts as the defender of all faiths in the country. The constitution states that the king is head of the armed forces and has some traditional responsibilities, such as the power to appoint heirs, grant pardons, and retain the royal assent. The king is advised by the Privy Council of Thailand.
The King is also responsible for appointing the Prime Minister of Thailand, who is normally the leader of the largest party, after an initial election. The Prime Minister is head of the executive branch and, therefore, also head of the Cabinet of Thailand. He can appoint or remove any ministers from the Cabinet and is responsible for representing the government abroad while being the face of government domestically.