Thailand History

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The Constitution, promulgated on December 22, 1978, is the country’s twelfth such document since 1932, when Thailand, then called Siam, first became a constitutional monarchy (see 1932 Coup, ch. 1). Thailand’s numerous constitutions resulted, in part, from various coup leaders revoking an old constitution and announcing an interim one in order to legitimize their takeover until a permanent constitution could be promulgated. Political maneuvers aimed at amending constitutional provisions have often shed light on the interplay of Thai political forces and the personalities and issues involved (see Political Developments, 1980-87 , this ch.).

The Constitution provides for a parliamentary form of government with the king as titular head of state. In theory, the monarch exercises popularly derived power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, and the courts. In reality, power is wielded by the prime minister--the head of government-- who chairs the Council of Ministers, or cabinet.

The Constitution includes a long chapter on the rights and liberties of the people, in which are guaranteed due process of law; sanctity of the family; rights of property and inheritance; freedom from forced labor, except by law in times of national emergencies or armed hostilities; and the inviolability of the person and private communications. Censorship is banned except by law for the purpose of "public order or good morals, public safety, or for maintaining the security of the state." Also guaranteed are freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religious worship, and the right of peaceful assembly; freedom of residence and movement within the kingdom; the right to organize voluntary associations; the right to establish a political party and engage in political activities within a democratic framework; and the right to petition against public institutions. These rights and liberties, however, are not to be used against the interest of "the Nation, religion, the King, and the Constitution."

Affairs of state must conform to a set of principles, which, among other things, obligate the state to maintain the monarchy, provide compulsory and free education, and promote public understanding of and belief in a democratic form of government with the king as its head. The state is also directed to ensure that the people enjoy the right of self-government as prescribed by law. Other directive principles urge the state to encourage private economic initiatives, raise the economic and social status of the citizenry to the level of "comfortable livelihood," and secure either landownership or land use rights for all farmers by means of land reform or other appropriate measures. The state is also called upon to promote culture, environmental protection, planned parenthood, and public health.

The power of the state, exercised through a centralized form of government, is divided into legislative, executive, and judicial categories. The state revolves around the king, the bicameral legislature, the cabinet, the judiciary, the local government, and the Constitutional Tribunal.

The Constitution may be amended by motions introduced either by the cabinet or by one-third of the members of the lower house of the National Assembly; in the latter case, a motion must be in accordance with a resolution adopted by the political party to which the proponents of the amendment belong. This provision is designed to encourage responsible party politics by prohibiting motions by members acting in defiance of party discipline. An amendment bill is deliberated in three readings and must be approved by more than one-half of the total members of both houses.

The interpretation of the Constitution is under the jurisdiction of both the National Assembly and the Constitutional Tribunal. Except for matters reserved for the Constitutional Tribunal, questions relating to the power and duty of the legislature are resolved by the assembly sitting in joint session. The tribunal is responsible for deciding the legality of a bill passed by the National Assembly. If at least one-fifth of the National Assembly members object to a given bill before it is given royal assent, they may request the president of either chamber to refer the disputed bill to the tribunal for adjudication. The prime minister also may raise an objection to the tribunal directly. Decisions by the Constitutional Tribunal are final and cannot be appealed.

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