Political Developments

The year 2000 saw the continuing implementation of the new constitution,

Basic Facts

Government type:
constitutional monarchy

Capital: Bangkok

Administrative divisions:
76 provinces

Constitution : new constitution signed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on 11 October 1997

Executive branch
Chief of state:
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (since 9 June 1946)
Head of government:
Prime Minister THAKSIN SHINAWATRA (since 9 February 2001)

Cabinet : Council of Ministers
Elections: the monarch is hereditary; prime minister designated from among the   members of the House of Representatives; following a national election for the  House of Representatives, the leader of the party that can organize a majority coalition usually becomes prime minister

which was passed in the wake of the economic crisis in 1997. Decentralization and good governance were also important issues in the political arena during 2000.

An important feature of Thailand’s political reform process is the decentralization of administrative functions that is required by the new Constitution over the next several years. This reversal of a 150-year trend towards bureaucratic centralization and nation-building, demonstrates Thailand’s political self-assurance and stability, whilst challenging its line ministries to re-engineer many of their processes so as to strengthen financial and development management at the sub-district (Tambon) level.

At present, 7,252 tambon have formed Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAO) with elected members who represent the tambon in the TAO committees. Participation of civic groups in development planning and decision making is encouraged through the TAO and other community empowerment initiatives.

The decentralization policy and plan that was endorsed by the parliament in 2000 allows some tasks, functions, personnel and budget to be devolved from central government to local government units such as TAOs. The plan suggests that, in 2001, twenty percent of public revenues will be allocated to the local government units to enable effective decentralization.

During 2000 the country’s new constitution was tested, essentially for the first time. Under the close watch of the Election Commission (set up under the new constitution) a number of pro-reform individuals were elected to the Senate for the first time in the March 2000 elections. Electoral fraud was still prevalent resulting in re-voting in some of the constituencies. However, the actions of the Election Commission demonstrated that the Thai government, as well as civil society, are serious in their quest to introduce higher levels of transparency and accountability in order to strengthen democracy.

Good governance was a central issue – and subject of debate - during 2000, not only in relation to the Election Commission. The “National Policy and Master Plan of Action on Human Rights” was drafted and the National Human Rights Commission was in the process of being formed. Furthermore, the Administrative Court was established with 23 judges nominated. The Ombudsman office was also set up and performed its functions in early 2000.

The National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC), an agency which was given added powers in the 1997 constitution, handed out two landmark indictments in Thai political history in 2000.

In mid-year, the then serving Interior Minister and Secretary-General of the leading party in the government was charged with falsifying assets declaration and this was subsequently upheld by the Constitutional Court. The politician was therefore barred from political office for 5 years. Also, towards the end of the year, the NCCC charged the leader of one of the front-running parties in the 2001 election with incomplete assets declaration and passed the case on to the Constitutional Court for judgement.

All these developments provide a hopeful sign that the appropriate legal and institutional instruments for improved governance are gradually being put in place and applied in the country.

Following the election of a new Parliament and the appointment of the new Government in the first weeks of 2001, the new constitution will no doubt be further tested, debated and fine-tuned during the coming year. In this respect, Thailand is ahead of many of its neighbors in terms of implementing political reforms, even if this process is neither easy nor straightforward.

Since governance and economic reform are closely interrelated, Thailand should be complimented for its efforts to establish a sound foundation in the political arena as an essential component to achieving equitable and sustainable development.

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