The Government of Thailand
Democracy has long been an ideal for Thai people, but the road to realizing the dream has never been easy, marked by a number of coups and a long power struggle between various factions of Thai society vying for political inffluence. The cry for a government powered by the people emerged as Thailand underwent a period of modernization, initiated by Rama IV and furthered by Chulalongkorn (Rama V) during the Chakri Reformation.
Although Chulalongkorn advocated change in many areas including the legal system, military, and the administrative government, he rejected a proposal for a democratic government, believing that the country was not ready for such a change. Ironically, the reform that he encouraged would eventually lead to a greater push toward democracy. Thailand's adoption of western ideas with the rise of a new class of intellectuals led to a push towards a new system of government.
It was not until Rama VII surrendered some of the monarchy's absolute power in 1932 that Thailand finally received its first taste of democracy. At this point control still rested in the hands of the few, mostly military bureaucrats. Tension began to emerge between rivaling factions and old and new elites, all centered around a struggle between bureaucracy and real democracy. The conflicting forces ended up in stalemate creating a long cycle of coups and rebellions.
Finally, a man named Sarit Thanarat initiated a revolt in 1957 and assumed full power of the government. He ruled with a strong hand, pushing for nationalistic programs in attempt to gain the favor of the people and create the illusion that he was ruling as a patriarch, or a benevolent guiding force. In doing so, he hoped to keep the people satisfied and slow down process of democratization. His plan would eventually backfired because his programs for development resulted in an increase of middle-class people and college graduates, two groups that began to clamor for a change towards democracy.
Fortunately for Thanarat, he would not live to see his own downfall. Instead, his two sucessors, Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn and Field Marshal Parpass Charusthien would become the target of a student led protest on October 14, 1973 that resulted in massive bloodshed. This "October Revolution" signifies the beginning of a truly democratic government. However, the new government erected would not withstand the test of time.
On October 14 three years later, the frail democracy established at much cost and many years of work would suffer a major setback. Violence broke out on that day resulting in an attack on the Prime Minister Government house and the burning of Thammasat University. A civilian dictatorship took control. However it was protected by the military, which reaffirmed the importance military even in a democratic system.
The October 14 incident rose out of an imbalance of the growing power of the people and the system's ability to handle it. An equilibrium between the social forces arising from Thailand's shift towards becoming a modern nation and the political system designed to contained them would be reached to some extent, making way for an age of relative stability. However, events such as a coup in 1992 would serve as reminders that even the current government is still far from immune from change.