The concept of party politics in Thailand can be traced back to the year 1932 when absolute monarchy came to an end and a new ruling group gave way to the establishment of the very first political party in Thailand, which was the People’s Party. The history of political parties in Thailand, just like the Philippines, is not a simple and easy one. During the first four decades after the year 1932, political parties were banned from existing for two long periods: 1933 to 1945 and 1958 to 1968. When parties were once again given the chance to function and exist, a major number of parties were established by rival groups of the political elites. Forming parties became a response of the rival groups who failed to defeat the administration through a coup d’etat (Bookrags). For many years, the Thai political party system had a very uncertain status. When parties existed, some suffered abolishment and revival, by military generals, at will. Political parties were not able to maintain a stable status and were not able to sustain permanence to develop a mass base. Following the establishment of a new constitution in 1968, parties were once again legalized. Thai party politics received a major force in the year 1973 when the collapse of the military rule happened. In the year 1975, 42 parties participated in the parliamentary election and in the year 1976, 39 parties participated. However, the continuous development of party politics in the so-called democratic period of 1973-1976 came to an end when a coup d’etat happened in October 1976. This led to the banning of political parties and the implementation of a martial law. Nonetheless, in the 1978 constitution, the martial rule was partially kept serene. And when a new regime was born, political parties were once again permitted to function and exist. But the restoration of the political party system caused an explosion in number of many minor parties, hence, a new act was passed in July 1981, to address and solve the problem. The new act had provisions which could not be easily met by minor parties, so as a result, in the 1983 and 1986 elections, the number of parties which participated was reduced to a lesser number. Other constitutional changes in 1997 were once again implemented to increase party discipline and loyalty. A new provision was added, it required representatives to resign their government seats once they switch or abandon their party affiliations (encyclopedia). Other regulations and laws in 1997 constitution which aim to reinforce parties and to widen the membership scope of parties so as to reduce patronage and vote buying are the following: “The Organic Law on Political Parties 1998 (B.E. 2541) and the Organic Law on Elections established an independent Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) with oversight authority. These laws strictly regulate party operations and accounting practices in order to enhance transparency and accountability within the party system.” (Siripan).
Through the history of Thai political parties, we can see some general features that could be attributed to them:
Political parties lack principles
Political parties lack clear platforms and programs
Political parties are unstable
Political parties are personality-centered
Party switching often happens because of lack of party loyalty
Most parties are driven by financial rather than ideological concerns
Political parties are often composed of factions or cliques (bookrags)
One big problem seen in Thai party politics is that the political parties often lack ideologies and principles, some were just founded to oppose and defeat the administration and not to bring about change in Thai government and politics. History can prove how much the government wanted to develop the party system of Thailand, its constitution has been changed many times and new acts have been created so as to increase the development of political parties, but still, some critics say that existing political parties in Thailand should be transformed into “real” parties based on their mass membership and ideological orientations (bookrags). Yet still, some improvements can be noted in the progress of Thai party politics, since some political parties have already identified their party ideologies. Despite the fact that Thailand is a multi-party system, because of the many changes that happened to its political party system, the number of parties was reduced as the years went by. And as of the last 2007 elections, there are only two major political parties acknowledged in Thailand: the Democrat Party (DP) and the Pheu Thai Party (this was created to replace People’s Power Party -PPP).
Democrat Party is the main coalition government party and the longest-standing party in Thailand. The party believes in the center-left and liberal ideology. Throughout the years since its foundation in 1946, DP evolved into an open opponent of the military of Thailand. DP’s current support bases are mainly on the middle and upper class Thai population (absoluteastronomy). The party has also preserved a free market and royalist belief. However, DP was not a defender of liberal democracy from the start, it only became a supporter of democracy in Thailand through its jostling with the military (Kuhonta 2009).
Pheu Thai Party (People’s Power Party -PPP)
Pheu Thai Party’s party platform and programs are mainly centered on populist ideology. Consequently, PTP’s programs aim to promote populist social welfare. PTP’s support bases are mainly on the North, Northeast, East and Central regions of Thailand. PTP’s programs also have aims of further improving the economy of Thailand through populist measures (absoluteastronomy).