The institution of the monarchy in Thailand is in many ways unique. Not only does it have a history going back more than seven hundred years, but it has also managed to preserve its relevance in the contemporary world. A constitutional monarchy since the promulgation of the Kingdom’s first constitution in 1932, the institution today continues to command deep, universal respect and serves as a guiding light and unifying force for the country, a focal point that brings together people from all backgrounds and shades of political thought and gives them an intense awareness of being Thai.
The love and reverence the Thai people have for their King stem in large part from the moral authority His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej has earned during his reign, one that involves a remarkable degree of personal contact with the people. At the same time, it is rooted in attitudes that can be traced to the earliest days of Thailand as a nation state and in some of the past monarchs who continue to serve as models of kingship.
Thai concepts of monarchy have their origins in Sukhothai, founded in the early part of the 13th century and generally regarded as the first truly independent Thai kingdom. Here, particularly under the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng the Great (1275-1317), was born the ideal of a paternalistic ruler alert to the needs of his people and aware of the fact that his duty was to guide them. Such forms part of Dasavidha-rājadhamma, or the ten precepts of kingship, which – rooted in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism – encompasses such virtues as willingness to give and sacrifice for a greater good, morality, honesty, open-mindedness, diligence, compassion, perseverance and righteousness.
With the founding of the Chakri dynasty in 1782 and the establishment of Bangkok as the capital, kingship was based primarily on adherence to the said Buddhist concepts of virtue, which indeed has served to the present day as a code of conduct of a Thai monarch and made the monarchical institution one that is responsive to the need of the people. The Bangkok period has produced a succession of able kings, capable of meeting a variety of challenges to the country, to the people as well as to the monarchy itself.
Today, Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratic form of government. The Thai monarch reigns, but does not rule. He discharges his roles in accordance with the country’s constitution and remains above partisan politics, while continuing to contribute to the development and well-being of the Kingdom and its people.
Thai Government and Politics – A Maturing Democracy
Thailand is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy. After the country went through a peaceful transformation in 1932, sovereign power came to belong to the Thai people, with the King as the Head of State who is above partisan politics and discharges his role in accordance with the country’s Constitution. The administration of the country is carried out by the prime minister – elected through an open vote by members of the House of Representatives – and the cabinet that the prime minister forms. The Kingdom has a bi-cameral legislature and an independent judiciary.
Despite periods of political turbulence, Thailand’s political history reflects the country’s unwavering commitment towards becoming a full-fledged, multi-party democracy, with accountability, transparency, good governance, as well as respect for human rights and the rule of law being among the main guiding principles. The Thai people and civil society organisations are increasingly taking part in political activities, enjoying the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
With the resiliency and fundamental strengths of the Thai society, the country has been able to continue its stride along the path of development, guided by the traditional Thai traits of tolerance, common sense and preference for peaceful solutions to problems.
Over the past decades, there has been a remarkable continuity in policy direction, providing a predictable framework for investors and businessmen. Successive Thai governments have always been committed to certain fundamental policy principles: friendly relations with all its neighbours and a responsible and constructive foreign policy, an open-market economy, hospitality toward foreign investors and tourists, sound macro-economic policies with fiscal and monetary prudence and the improvement of the country’s infrastructure to increase competitiveness and achieve sustainable development. These policies are underpinned, among others, by the vibrant private sector and the strength and continuity of the civil service of the nation, which oversees the implementation of policies and execution of laws throughout the country.
A Society Living in Harmony amidst Diversity
A nation with a long and rich history, Thailand has preserved its unique identity and traditions over the centuries, while also welcoming diverse cultures reaching its shores as the Kingdom increased its contacts with the outside world. Thai people are well-known for their friendliness, generosity and tolerance, regardless of gender, race and faith.
Thailand has a population of around 65 million, consisting of around 80 per cent Thais, 10 per cent Chinese and 3 per cent Malays. The rest are minorities, including the Mons, Khmers and various hill tribes people. There are five major religions currently observed. Around 89 per cent of Thais are Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in Thailand at around 10 per cent. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.7 per cent of the population.
There is also a small but influential community of Sikhs in Thailand and some Hindus living in the country’s cities who are mostly engaged in retail commerce, in addition to a small Jewish community dating back to the 17th century. All these groups live in harmony and enjoy freedom to practice their respective beliefs, as guaranteed by the country’s constitution. His Majesty the King, while a Buddhist, is a patron of all religions.
Underpinned by eight centuries of chronicled history that is rich in tradition going back beyond that, Thai cultural heritage is a blend of customs, from the Siamese royal court and historical tributary principalities to distinctive regional folklore. Thai culture has also been influenced by religious tenets, largely inspired by Theravada Buddhism, but also incorporating a great deal of Indian, Chinese, Khmer and other traditions from the rest of Southeast Asia and beyond.
Culture, arts and religions have been upheld on the basis of freedom and integration. This has allowed the country to remain open to the outside world, ready to adopt innovations that benefit society. Culture is recognised as an important element of the Kingdom’s social fabric and its dynamic economy, enabling all citizens to uphold their virtues, to live together peacefully and to continually adapt to change.
Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand (www.mfa.go.th)