Legitimising Southeast Asian Authoritarianism: The Politics of State in Thailand

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Home > Articles > Legitimising Southeast Asian Authoritarianism: The Politics of State in Thailand

 Legitimising Southeast Asian Authoritarianism: The Politics of State in Thailand

Antonio Rappa | Today's Manager
September 2, 2019

This analysis of the politics of state in Thailand reveals its authoritarian structures that keep the military in power.

The Thai General Election of 2019
In the recent Thai General Election (GE), 11 Thai parties that won parliamentary seats support Chano-Cha’s pro-army party. Despite protests from Opposition parties, corruption remains high due to regime authoritarianism without a system of check-and-balances. Military generals with vested interests remain in control. Successive Thai military juntas exclusively from the army, make use of dummy democratic institutions to legitimise pro-military policies.

Corruption and Thaksin
When the military junta overthrew Ms Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, the new military government under Chan-o-Cha immediately introduced a new pro-military Constitution that was immediately ratified. The pro-military Constitution provides for all Senators to be appointed by the military junta. The new pro-military Constitution also provides that one-third of all Lower House seats are to be reserved for military-backed Members of Parliament (MP). All military-backed MPs are parliamentarians nominated and funded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTAF).

Election Commission Corruption
Thai newspapers argue that the Election Commission rigged the political system to ensure a win for incumbent government. However little to no evidence exists to support the view that the Election Commission is complicit with the junta.

Singapore’s Channel News Asia reported on 23 May 2019 that the Election Commission had decided to ban an outspoken newly-elected MP for breaking a GE rule. For example, new politician Thai billionaire Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit was charged with a bizarre discovery. The Election Commission said Mr Thanathorn had defaulted and will be banned from politics, losing his MP seat, and possibly gaining a 10-year prison sentence. The billionaire also faces a criminal charge of sedition and another for cybercrime for a speech he made on Facebook criticising the military government in 2015 and 2018 respectively. After the GE results were televised, the Election Commission suddenly changed the Election Law. It said that a revised formula would be used to allocate 150 “party seats” according to the political parties’ shares at the national level. The revised formula basically re-allocates one seat to each of the 11 fragmentary political parties that would otherwise have not qualified under the pre-GE formula.

But where would these seats come from? They would come from the Future Forward Party (FFP) whose leader Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has been charged with various crimes. The greatest beneficiary of the revised formula would be the junta-backed Palang Pracharath party. How can the Election Commission claim to be neutral?

Systemic Cracks
Of the 11 small parties, the Ponlamuang Thai Party joined the Palang Pracharath (Chan-o-Cha) party to form a new coalition. But there appears to be some cracks in the regime under Chan. The junta under the self-appointed Chan had since 2014 or over five years to identify and groom suitable Senators and MPs. They simultaneously wreaked havoc on the Red Shirt leadership by imprisoning and banning its leaders.

Aligned with the old yellow Shirts, the party witnessed its greatest defeat across the Kingdom including its natural strongholds in the Southern provinces and in Bangkok. No clear explanation has been given for its dismal performance by any leading Thai political scientist. My own view is that it was the military led junta’s strategists who attempted to undermine and take over the traditional strongholds of the Democrat Party. The long-term intention, as I believe, is to take over the traditional and conservative power foothold in Bangkok now that the old King Bhumiphon (Rama IX) is dead.

Although the various moves by the junta before and after the GE were seen to be undemocratic and illiberal, the Thai people appear to have voted in support of the Chan regime. This is a misnomer because the regime structure is heavily skewed in favour of the incumbent junta government as proven in the final result.

According to the King and the Making of Modern Thailand 1, (1) the idea of democratic elections requires that: there must be free and fair elections that are regularly held (yet these are not done in Thailand); (2) there ought to be neutral foreign and local observers (but they were not present in Thailand); (3) there should be no barriers to entry in terms of race, language, religion, gender, age, or ideology (again, this was not true in the 2019 Thai GE); (4) there should be no vote-buying, pork-barrel politics, or veiled threats (which were reported across the Kingdom in 2019); and (5) the Election Commission has consistently made decisions that come down on the side of the Thai government. Therefore, the politics of state authoritarianism enable the Thai military junta to remain in power until new grassroots forces begin rebelling next year.

1 Antonio R, The King and the Making of Modern Thailand, Routledge. Accessed via: https://www.routledge.com/The-King-and-the-Making-of-Modern-Thailand/Rappa/p/book/9781138221031


​Dr Antonio L Rappa is Associate Professor and Head of Management and Security Studies at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) School of Business. He worked at NUS, NTU, and held visiting appointments at Johns Hopkins University, UC Berkeley, Chulalongkorn University, and Chang Mai University. Dr Rappa held an SAF Overseas Military Training Award (New Zealand) and an NUS overseas Graduate Award. He was offered the Cambridge University Overseas Development Award in 1993 to Fitzwilliam College at the University of Cambridge. His most recent book entitled The King and the Making of Modern Thailand 1 was published in April/May 2017.


Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 3, 2019

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