CONSTITUTION OF THAILAND: THE 2007 CONSTITUTION, OLDER VERSIONS, LAWS AND RIGHTS

CONSTITUTION OF THAILAND

Thailand’s has had 18 constitutions since the absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932. The current supreme law of Thailand is the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2550 (2007), which is the 18th constitution promulgated so far. The 18th Constitution was voted on in a public referendum and received an approval of 57.8 percent. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department *]

The general provisions of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand confirm the Kingdom as a democratic regime and establish the following rights and liberties of the Thai people: Section 1: Thailand is a united and indivisible Kingdom; Section 2: Thailand follows a democratic form of government with the King as Head of State; Section 3: The sovereign power belongs to the Thai people. The King as Head of State shall exercise such power through the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, and the courts in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The performance of duties of the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, the courts, the constitutional organizations, and state agencies shall be in accordance with the rule of law; Section 4: The human dignity, rights, liberty, and equality of the people shall be protected; Section 5: The Thai people, irrespective of their origin, sex, or religion, shall enjoy equal protection under this Constitution. *

According to the Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department: “The strong point of the 2007 Constitution lies in the provisions for the rights and liberties of the people, and the people’s greater participation in the administration of the country, with their rights, liberties, and equality ensured in various aspects and in practical terms. The term “rights” is clearly defined as the power to freely perform any acts recognized by the laws, while “liberties” means that a person may choose to think, to do, and to speak as he/she wishes, and the term “duties” means acts desired by society, which differ in accordance with each person’s role, so long as those acts do not hurt others. *

History of the 2007 Thai Constitution

A new 2007 constitution—the 18th constitution since the absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932—was drafted by body appointed by the junta in July, 2007. It was approved in a national referendum on August 24, 2007 with 57 percent of voters supporting it and 41 percent voting against it. The voter turnout was 57 percent. The new constitution was prerequisite for going ahead with elections held in December 2007. The 41 percent vote against it was a clear sign that a large number of people were not pleased. Many of those who voted in support of the new constitution did so so that elections would happen sooner rather than later.

After the September 2006 coup, an interim 39-article constitution drafted by the ruling council was endorsed by King Bhumibol and promulgated on October 1, 2006. It remained in place until the permanent constitution was proclaimed. The interim constitution—Thailand’s 17th constitution—gave overwhelming power to the executive branch and the Council for National Security (CNS), with the CNS chairman having the power to appoint and remove the prime minister. [Source: Library of Congress]

The 2007 constitution was drafted with the aim of preventing a single party from amassing as much power as it did under Thaksin. It weakened electoral politics and the power of the prime minister and the political parties and gave more power to the military and the bureaucracy. The parliament system remained in place although the number of seats was reduced from 500 to 480. The make up of the Senate was greatly altered (See Legislature). Some academics called the new charter “managed democracy.” It gave the military great powers, including amnesty for the coup leaders and oversight by the military over political activity at all levels.

Older Thailand Constitutions

The 1997 Constitution that was enacted after the Asian Financial Crisis was drawn by representatives from all parts of Thailand. Thailand’s 16th since 1932 and the first to be decreed by a civilian government, it featured strong guarantees for individual rights but also, it would turn out, loopholes that enabled these rights to be undermined and one-party rule established.

The new radical “people constitution” was adopted in October 1997 in the turbulent months that followed the onset of the Asian economic crisis. Regarded as a blueprint for a new open society, it was intended to address problems such as corruption, make government more transparent, codify democratic reforms and spell out basic freedoms and human rights entitled to all. Among other things the constitution created an electoral commission whose aim was to stamp out widespread campaign abuses. It also instituted tough laws to combat corruption and established nonpartisan elections for the Senate

The Thai middle class played a pivotal role in the adoption of that constitution, which for example stated that only university graduates were eligible to run in general elections. Joe Cummings wrote in the Lonely Planet guide for Thailand: The rátthàthamanun pràchaachon (people’s constitution) put new mechanisms in place to monitor the conduct of elected officials and political candidates and to protect civil rights, achieving many of the aims of the pro-democracy movement. [Source: Joe Cummings, Lonely Planet guide for Thailand]

The Constitution, promulgated on December 22, 1978, was the country's 12 such document since 1932, when Thailand, then called Siam, first became a constitutional monarchy. 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. [Source: Library of Congress]

See Corruption, Elections

Details of 2007 Thai Constitution

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.[Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department*]

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. *

Laws of the Thai Constitution

Secondary to the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand are acts and codes enacted by the legislative branch or the National Assembly, comprising members of the House of Representatives, senators, the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the speaker of the Senate. The principal legislative powers in the administration of Thailand are divided into three areas: 1) The power to screen and enact laws; 2) The power to consider the national budget; 3) The power to monitor the operation of the administration, with the ability to appoint or remove political officeholders. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department*]

Legislation in Thailand is enacted in consideration of five objectives: 1) Establishing and maintaining law and order, safety, and social security, such as criminal laws or drug suppression acts; 2) Ending conflicts, such as laws considered in courts; 3) Setting directions and solving social problems at present and in the future, such as town planning laws and education reform laws; 4) Allocating resources and setting up economic structures, such as tax laws and budget laws; 5) Instituting and defining political and administrative structures, such as setting election dates, and establishing rules for operation of the National Assembly, the courts, and the Council of Ministers. *

Rights Outlined in the Thai Constitution

Rights, Liberties, and Equality of the Thai People. The rights and liberties of the Thai people as recognized by the Constitution are divided into ensuring human dignity, equality of individuals, freedom of expression of individuals, and people’s political participation under the Constitution. The concerns involving the rights, liberties, and equality of the Thai people are detailed in the sections that follow. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department*]

Recognition of Human Dignity, The recognition of human dignity refers to prohibition of inhumane treatment of fellow humans, and a person may pursue his/her recognized rights and liberties without violating the rights and liberties of other persons, as described hereunder: 1) Human dignity, rights, liberties, and equality of individuals shall be protected; 2) The exercising of power by all state authorities shall regard human dignity, rights, and liberties in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution; 3) A person may pursue human dignity and his/her rights and liberties in so far as it is not in violation of the rights and liberties of other persons, or contrary to this Constitution or to the good morals of the people. A person whose rights and liberties are violated may invoke the provisions of the specific laws to file a lawsuit or to defend him/herself in court; 4) A person shall enjoy the right and liberty of his/ her life and person. Acts of torture, brutality, or punishment by cruel or inhumane means are not permitted. *

Ensuring Equality Between Individuals. This Constitution provides equal protection to all Thai people, fairly and indiscriminately, in the following ways: 1) Thai people, irrespective of origin, sex, or religion, shall receive equal protection under this Constitution; 2) All persons are equal before the law, and shall enjoy equal protection under the law. Men and women are equal. Unjust discrimination against a person on grounds of difference in origin, race, language, sex, age, disability, physical or health condition, personal status, economic or social standing, religious belief, education, or political view, contrary to provisions of the Constitution, shall not be permitted. 3) Persons shall enjoy the equal right to receive education for a period of not less than 12 years, which shall be provided by the state in full, to a standard quality, and without charge. The indigent, disabled, or despondent shall enjoy the same right and be supported by the state, so that they may receive the same education as other persons. *

Recognition of Freedom of Expression of Individuals. A person enjoys the liberty to express his/her opinion, within certain bounds, including the following rights: 1) A person may enjoy the liberty to express his/her opinion, make speeches, write, print, publicize, and express him/herself by other means; 2) The mass media have the liberty to express their opinion and to present the news, but with strict concern for professional ethics; 3) A person has the right to receive and to gain access to public information in the possession of a government agency, state agency, state enterprise, or local government organization, unless the disclosure of such information shall affect the security of the state, public safety, the interests of other persons who should be protected, or personal data of other persons, as provided by law; 4) A person has the right to participate in the decision-making process of state officials in their performance of administrative functions which affect or may affect his/her rights and liberties as provided by law. *

Article 73 of the constitution states: “The State shall patronize and protect Buddhism”

Political Participation and Duties of the People under the Thai Constitution

The Thai people are afforded opportunities to have political participation under the Constitution, as follows: 1) An eligible voter has the right to vote in a referendum, as in the case of the public referendum on the draft Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2550 (2007); 2) A person may enjoy the liberty to unite and form a political party for the purpose of carrying out the political will of the people and engaging in political activities for the fulfilling of such will through a democratic form of government with the King as Head of State, as provided in this Constitution; 3) A person has the right to resist peacefully an act committed for the acquisition of the power to rule the country by a means which is not in accordance with the modes provided in this Constitution; 4) Eligible voters of not less than 10,000 in number have the right to submit a petition to the President of the National Assembly to consider draft bills, as provided in this Constitution; 5) Eligible voters of not less than 20,000 in number have the right to lodge with the President of the Senate a complaint in order for the Senate to pass a resolution removing officeholders from office. The complaint shall clearly itemize offenses committed by such persons. The rules, procedures, and conditions for the lodging of a complaint shall be in accordance with the organic law on counter corruption. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department*]

Duties of the Thai people, as defined in the present Constitution. Every person has the duty to uphold the nation, religions, the King, and the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State under this Constitution; 1) A person has the duty to defend the country, to protect the benefits of the nation, and to obey the laws; 2) Every person has the duty to exercise his/her right to vote in an election; 3) Every person has a duty to serve in the armed forces, to pay taxes, to render assistance to the official service, to receive education and training, to protect, preserve, and pass on the national arts, culture, and local wisdom, and to conserve the nation’s natural resources and the environment, as provided by law; 4) A government official or employee of a government agency, state agency, state enterprise, or local government organization, as well as other state officials, has a duty to act in compliance with the law in order to protect the public interest and to provide convenience and services to the public, in accordance with the principles of good public governance. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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