Local government comprised both regular territorial administrative units and self-governing bodies. Local autonomy was limited, however, by the high degree of centralization of power. The Ministry of Interior controlled the policy, personnel, and finances of the local units at the provincial and district levels. Field officials from the ministry as well as other central ministries constituted the majority of administrators at local levels.
In 1987 there were seventy-three provinces (changwat), including the metropolitan area of Bangkok, which had provincial status (see unavail.asp"> fig. 8). The provinces were grouped into nine regions for administrative purposes. As of 1984 (the latest year for which information was available in 1987), the provinces were divided into 642 districts (amphoe), 78 subdistricts (king amphoe), 7,236 communes (tambon), 55,746 villages (muban), 123 municipalities (tesaban), and 729 sanitation districts (sukhaphiban).
The province was under a governor (phuwarachakan), who was assisted by one or more deputy governors, an assistant governor, and officials from various central ministries, which, except for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, maintained field staffs in the provinces and districts. The governor supervised the overall administration of the province, maintained law and order, and coordinated the work of ministerial field staffs. These field officials carried out the policies and programs of their respective ministries as line administrators and also served as technical advisers to the governor. Although these officials were responsible to the governor in theory, in practice they reported to their own ministries in Bangkok and maintained communication with other province-level and district-level field staffs.
The governor also was responsible for district and municipal administration, presiding over a provincial council composed of senior officials from the central ministries. The council, which served in an advisory capacity, met once a month to transmit central government directives to the district administrators. Apart from the council, an elected provincial assembly exercised limited legislative oversight over provincial affairs.
District administration was under the charge of a district officer (nai amphor), who was appointed by the minister of interior and reported to the provincial governor. Larger districts could be divided into two or more subdistricts, each under an assistant district officer. The district or the subdistrict was usually the only point of contact between the central authority and the populace; the central government had no appointed civil service officials below this level.
The district officer’s duties as overseer of the laws and policies of the central government were extensive. He supervised the collection of taxes, kept basic registers and vital statistics, registered schoolchildren and aliens, administered local elections at the commune and village levels, and coordinated the activities of field officials from Bangkok. Additionally, the district officer convened monthly meetings of the headmen of the communes and villages to inform them of government policies and instruct them on the implementation of these policies. As the chief magistrate of the district, he also was responsible for arbitration in land disputes; many villagers referred these disputes to the district officer rather than to a regular court.
The commune was the next level below the district. An average of nine contiguous, natural villages were grouped into one commune, whose residents elected a headman (kamnan) from among the village headmen (phuyaibun) within the commune. The commune chief was not a regular government official, but because of his semiofficial status, he was confirmed in office by the provincial governor. He also was entitled to wear an official uniform and receive a monthly stipend. Assisted by a small locally recruited staff, the kamnan recorded vital statistics, helped the district officer collect taxes, supervised the work of village headmen, and submitted periodic reports to the district officer.
Below the commune level was the village government. Each village elected a headman, who generally served as the middleman between villagers and the district administration. The headman’s other duties included attending meetings at the district headquarters, keeping village records, arbitrating minor civil disputes, and serving as village peace officer. Generally the headman served five years or longer and received a monthly stipend. In the 1980s, the importance of a village headman seemed to be declining as the authority of the central government expanded steadily through the provincial and local administrations.
Municipalities in Thailand included Bangkok, seventy-two cities serving as provincial capitals, and some large district towns. According to the 1980 census, municipalities had a combined population of 7.6 million, or about 17 percent of the national total. The municipalities consisted of communes, towns, and cities, depending on population. Municipal residents elected mayors and twelve to twenty-four municipal assemblymen; the assemblymen chose two to four councillors from among their number, who together with the mayors made up executive councils.
In theory, the municipal authorities were self-governing, but in practice municipal government was an administrative arm of the central and provincial authorities. The Ministry of Interior had effective control over municipal affairs through the provincial administration, which had the authority to dissolve municipal assemblies and executive councils. Moreover, such key officials as the municipal clerk and section chiefs were recruited, assigned, and retired by the ministry, which also had the power to control and supervise the fiscal affairs of the perennially deficit-ridden municipalities.
Until 1985 Bangkok’s governor and assemblymen were appointed by the central government. In November of that year, however, for the first time an election was held as part of the constitutionally mandated effort to nurture local selfgovernment . Chamlong Srimuang, a former major general running as an independent, won the governorship by a landslide.
At the next lower level of local government, every district had at least one sanitation district committee, usually in the district capital. This committee’s purpose was to provide services such as refuse collection, water and sewage facilities, recreation, and road maintenance. The committee was run by exofficio members headed by the district officer. Like municipalities, the sanitation districts were financially and administratively dependent on the government, notably the district administration.