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A Public Forum on “Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges.”


A Public Forum on “Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges.”

Friday, 3rd October 2014 at 8.30 - 11.30 a.m.

The Chumbhot-Pantip Conference Room, 4th Floor Prajadhipok-Rambhaibarni Building,
Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University



Opening Remarks

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana
  Dean, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University                                             


 Prof. Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn
   ISIS Senior Professorial Fellow and Former Constitutional Drafter
   Emeritus Professor and Former Dean
   Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

                               Mr. Suranand Vejjajiva
Former Minister and MP
                               Former Secretary General to the Prime Minister                       

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Gothom Arya
Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies, Mahidol University
Former Election Commissioner                                                                                     

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn  
  Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
  Security Advisor to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak
  Director of ISIS Thailand
  Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University 

                              Open Forum


Videos: Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges

Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges 1/3:

Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges 2/3:

Reforming Post-Coup Thai Politics: Issues, Priorities and Challenges 3/3:


If you wish more detailed information concerning this seminar please click



Opening Remarks: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake Tangsupvattana

The goal of this public forum is to engage in public debate which is constructive, fair and unbiased. It aims to facilitate a broad exchange of views and ideas from all sides, with the ultimate intention of benefitting Thai society. This can contribute to long-term peace and stability in Thailand.

ISIS forums will continue to cover a wide range of issues and discussion on domestic politics, regional dynamics and international integration. They are intended to provide a window for Thailand to understand the outside world, a channel for the outside world to understand Thailand, and hopefully to help Thais understand each other.

With the balanced and educational intentions of this forum in mind, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ake introduced the debate on Thailand’s political reforms. The concept of ‘reform’ is frequently bandied about in Thailand, but proposals for reform have seldom been backed up with concrete plans.  This forum is not interested in making political statements, rather it hopes to make a small impact in spurring Thailand’s ongoing reform process.


Moderator: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Broadly there are 11 reform areas, including politics, public administration, law and justice, local administration, education, economy, public health, environment, media and society. Now that Thailand has the National Reform Council coming into place, what are we likely to see in the next phase of the reform process?


Prof. Dr. Suchit Bunbongkarn

Reform is an interest and in the interest of everyone. The frequent discussion among Thais about reforms reminded Dr. Suchit of a lecture comparing reform and revolution by Prof. Sam Huntington in the 1960s at Harvard. Huntington’s argument was that reform was far more difficult than revolution. If the reform process begins too early the conservatives will block it and it will fail. If it begins too late people will already be eager for a revolution. Timing for reform is incredibly difficult.

The government has provided the NRC with 11 priority areas for reform. Dr. Suchit believes that it is very difficult for the government and NRC to complete these reforms all at the same time. The NRC has been composed of experts from different sectors and different parts of the country who will be able to specialise in the individual reform sectors, but how the reform areas will be prioritised remains unknown.

If Thailand is to consolidate its democracy, political reform must be the top priority. Political reform should be focussed ensuring that future elected governments serve the public’s needs. Future governments can be held responsible by developing strong political institutions, a fair and transparent electoral system and a reformed party system.

Thailand has had a very weak party system for several decades. Like Thailand, the US and the UK have a ‘two-party system’ which is generally ideal for a stable democracy. However, the Thai system has a number of key differences and weaknesses. In both Pheu Thai and the Democrat Party, there are very weak linkages between the parties and their constituents, and they tend to be dominated by one or two extremely powerful people. The parties tend to cater to their regional bases; Pheu Thai in the north and northeast, the Democrats in the south. Dr. Suchit believes that by establishing a good party system with significant public participation, we can have more confidence that the elected officials will be honest and effective, as well as attentive to their constituents.

The reform process must also provide an elected government that is able to accommodate the needs of various political, social and economic groups ranging from the grassroots level up to the top. Thai society is becoming more complex because of diversifying interests, political needs, and income levels. Having the capability to balance and accommodate these diverse interests is a completely new experience for Thai governments. We need a reform process which will strengthen our elected government and allow it to develop the capacity to accommodate the needs of all people, regardless of whether they are lower, middle or upper income, urban or rural, and young or old. 

The reform programme must stick to the principle of democracy; people’s liberty must be respected and equality encouraged. However, there has to be a very delicate balance between freedom and order. Finding a suitable balance between freedom and order requires input not just from government and the NRC, but from all sectors of Thailand’s diverse society.

The relationship between politicians and civil service bureaucrats requires urgent reform. In Thailand, personal relationships are very important. Job promotions and professional advances often require good personal relationships rather than hard work or accomplishments. This has bred a strong patronage system within politics and the bureaucracy in Thailand. Patronage systems tend to encourage corruption and graft, and do not allocate rewards on the basis of merit.

One major prerequisite for strong and stable government is civilian control of the armed forces. This is one major sector of reform which has been absent from the current debate on political reform. Currently, reform of the police force is being undertaken, however the NRC and government have not mentioned anything about military reform. Dr. Suchit believes that an objective new balance between civilian control and military independence must be reached in order for Thailand to consolidate electoral democracy.

The devolution of government administration has also become a focus for reform. Political administrative authority should not be concentrated in the capital. There should be more power allocated to the regions. There have been proposals for direct elections of provincial governors and some local government officers, which would allow people to decide how and by whom their communities are run. But, this devolution may provide more opportunities for some greedy local politicians who have an insatiable hunger for power and wealth. Any reforms on the devolution of government administration must mitigate against potential abuses of the system.

Under previous Constitutions, very powerful anti-corruption commissions and Constitutional Courts have been established in order to provide checks-and-balances. Decisions made in the Constitutional Court are complex, and often have both direct and indirect impacts on politics. To ensure that these institutions work correctly, Dr. Suchit stressed that they need to remain politically free, autonomous and shielded from political and economic interests. People need to have faith that Court decisions are made without lobbying or outside influences. In order to have an honest government, you need to have a capable, competent and incorruptible system of checks-and-balances.

The most important reform is to strengthen the civil society sector. Dr. Suchit believes that the development of a sense of citizenship will empower the civil society sector. If the civil society and people sectors are strong, it will strengthen democracy and insulate them against being exploited by crafty politicians. This process is difficult and takes time, but it is essential for a healthy and stable democracy.

To complete all of these reforms within a year is almost an impossible dream. But Dr. Suchit argues that it is something we must tackle. Thailand need to make something that is impossible, possible.


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Gothom Arya

Dr. Gothom argues that Thailand akin to a pendulum which swings between military regimes and representative democracy. These oscillations mean that Thailand’s politics is an ever repeating transitory system without a middle equilibrium point. After the coup and the installation of a military government, Thailand is currently at one extreme end of this oscillation. We have been promised that within a year the pendulum will swing back when ‘true democracy’ is restored. The challenge now is for all supporters of the coup and their opponents to engage and talk to try to find ways to stop the pendulum from once again swinging back to a military regime.

A century ago, Thailand derived its traditional political values of Nation, Religion and King from the old British values of God, King and Country. In 1932, the People’s Party introduced the 6 Principles; Sovereignty, Safety, Economic Prosperity, Equality, Freedom and Education for all. Now, the National Council for Peace and Order have introduced its 12 Values:

1. Upholding the three traditional values

2. Being honest and pious.

3. Being grateful to the parents, guardians and teachers

4. Seeking knowledge

5. Preservation of Thai traditions

6. Morality and integrity

7. Understanding democratic ideals with His Majesty the King as the Head of State

8. Maintaining discipline

9. Being conscious and mindful of actions in line with His Majesty’s the King’s royal statements

10. Applying His Majesty the King’s Sufficiency Economy.

11. Maintaining both physical and mental strength, be healthy.

12. Putting the public and national interest before one’s own interests.


This is now being learned in Thai schools. Other countries in the region and internationally have common values, for example Indonesia has its Pancasila and the European Union has 8 Common Values and Interests.  Thai society needs to seriously engage in an open dialogue to search for what it truly values. These values can serve as a basis for a new social contract which can guide the country during times of extreme polarisation and political conflict.

Dr. Gothom believes that important or contested issues related to the drafting of the new Constitution need to be debated and deliberated upon. First, will Thailand have a liberal Constitution or will it be very highly scrutinised by external forces? Thais have to deliberate on whether they want a liberal or a guided democracy. Secondly, what is the ideal size for the Constitution? The 2007 Thai Constitution falls into the ‘large’ category. However, small Constitutions can be beautiful and concise, and less contradictory by only enshrining basic laws.

Thailand has to deliberate on the system of checks-and-balances. Have governments been too easily thrown out? To whom are the independent bodies answerable? How can proper internal and external balances between legislative, executive and judicial bodies be enshrined?

For the electoral cycle Thai society needs to deliberate on what kinds of election, selection and appointment rules will Thailand have for Members of Parliament and Senators, the Prime Minister and ministers, judges, and high ranking officials? How can this process be seen as ‘fair’ by most Thais. What rules will there be for their eventual dismissal?

Leading from this, Dr. Gothom made his final point on a ‘Fair Play Discourse.’  Thailand needs to develop social and political sanctions for those who refuse to play the political ‘game’ fairly. Accountability and consent are two of the most basic principles. You have the right to govern through consent, but you have the duty to report yourself to the electorate. That is accountability. If you do not do both, you are not legitimate and the society should be informed and you should be punished. But how can we discuss such a discourse? This can only be determined after the input of every institution, government, business, civil society, media and community group. Dr. Gothom believes that a stable and sustainable political system can come through deliberation, dialogue and discussion.


Mr. Suranand Vejjajiva

Mr. Suranand believes that it is vital to have this kind of open, frequent public forum organised all over the country. Discussions about ways forward to Thailand should be encouraged by the government and open to academics, the media, and communities. Discussions about reform and reconciliation cannot be solely contained in the National Reform Council.

There is no denial that the areas designated by the NCPO require reform; education, health care, the media, and politics have long needed to be addressed. However, there is still need for caution. The issues that have been designated have been debated extensively in the past. There have been mechanisms for reform consensus through the political process and National Economic and Social Development plans. Reform and development is a continuous, ongoing process. It cannot be stopped and cannot be completed overnight. Mr. Suranand argues that it is a myth (or perhaps propaganda) that one person or one group can lead the reform process. Effective reform needs to be inclusive, participatory and ongoing.

Judging by the members of the NLA and NRC, Mr. Suranand believes that the reform process will look something like the existing 11th NESDB plan. While using the NESDB plan as a template is not necessarily a bad idea, he feels that it will be insufficient to solve the underlying issues facing Thailand at the moment. In addition, Mr. Suranand questions whether a comprehensive reform process will be completed in a way that can resolve the nation’s woes, or whether it will be a shopping list, a utopian distraction to mask the present government’s real intentions.

What the present government has been able to achieve is a crackdown on many of the mafias which plague Thailand, such as the jet-ski and motorcycle gangs which are a nuisance. However, this should have been taken care of by the police and security forces long ago. The fact that law and order has not been maintained by the police shows that this crackdown is simply superficial. Open discussions about how to solve the deeper underlying and root causes issues must be undertaken.

Mr. Suranand believes that before we dream up new electoral mechanisms or roadmaps of the future, certain axiomatic values pertaining to where all Thais want to see the nation heading must be established. Without first establishing an agreed upon set of values, the vicious cycle of coups, counter-coups and elections will continue. Therefore Thai society needs to find new values and an agreed upon social contract.

Mr. Suranand stressed that democracy remains the best system to guarantee the liberty and rights of all. Humans are not born equal, but they must all have the equal rights and opportunity to grow and prosper. Many have argued for political stability, some even at the cost of freedom. Political stability is a necessary condition for sustainable economic development, but democracy is necessary to ensure that economic growth is fair and equal. Stability will follow if people trust a democratic system which guarantees their basic rights and liberties. The challenge now is to create a democratic system which the public trusts, which gives equal opportunities and protects liberties which can break Thailand’s vicious cycle of political conflict.

In a democracy the majority rules, but minority rights must also be respected. However, at the same time the political cycle cannot be upended by tyranny of the minority. In more advanced pluralistic democracies, the majority and minority tends to shift back-and-forth depending on certain key issues. Alliances form, compromises are made and trade-offs are normal. For Thailand, divisions over key issues tend to turn into a ‘face-off’ with an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. This is where the politics of extremes emerges which is lose-lose for all involved.

Mr. Suranand believes that another issue holding back democratic consolidation is the patronage system which has become stronger than the merit system, democracy and the rule of law. The patronage system has also become the root of corruption. Thailand’s political system has become one of ‘who you know, not what you know.’ This goes for both democratically elected and appointed positions. Thailand’s reform process cannot move ahead if patronage continues to trump merit.

There are always good and bad people in every sector, whether it be in politics, academia, business, military or the police. A new political culture which values merit, compromise, stability, democracy and equality needs to be built across the board in every sector. While necessary, it is not going to be built overnight. In the end a true and sustainable political system can be made through education of citizens and stakeholders of the values required in a democracy. This may be a slow, painstaking process, but there are no shortcuts which can be taken.

Mr. Suranand argued that sometimes, ‘a few good men’ think that they can interrupt the vicious cycles of political conflict. So far, these people have failed to break that cycle time-after-time. He believes that this is because coups do not give the public the opportunity to learn how their vote can directly impact the outcome of an election. There are good politicians and there are bad politicians, but the public has to learn how to tell them apart.

Mr. Suranand’s final point was an admission that while he was Secretary General during the Yingluck administration, the model used by the government to run the country was derived on the Thai Rak Thai model from Thaksin’s first term. It was a decade old model which worked, but towards the end he felt that the model required re-evaluation in light of Thailand’s position in a fast changing-world. Thais have to ask themselves, how will the nation prosper and survive in the 21st Century? That decade-old model is now inadequate for managing Thailand’s position in a complex and dynamic region. The fear then is that the current military government will use General Prem’s 25-year old model. While it was successful in the 1980s, it will not work in the current context. In the end, the best way to find solutions for reform, common values shared by all Thais and resolutions to vicious cycles of political conflict is through open and free public participation.


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Panitan Wattanayagorn

The concern for many is how to return democracy back to Thailand. Dr. Panitan believes the fact that public forums about politics and reform are being held suggests that Thailand does not have a closed democracy, but that it is still open and working.

The coup which took place on 22 May was the 13th (or by some accounts 26th) successful coup in Thailand since 1932. This puts Thailand in the 4th place for the countries having the most coups in the world (after Sudan, Iraq, and Bolivia). On average, coups take place every six years. What is it in the Thai political culture that allows these successive coups? Also, why is it that coups in Thailand are much more peaceful?

If the Red Shirts would like to oppose the coup, they can. They have the capacity to easily call up in excess of 200,000 people to protest in the streets. In the South, they can do the same thing. However, they have not. Dr. Panitan believes the reason for this is that the Red Shirts, Yellow Shirts, PDRC, Pheu Thai and Democrats do not currently see the military as an anti-democratic force. Thai people still look up to the military as a third-way between the competing political forces in Thailand. Civilian control of the military is critical for a democracy, but it must be remembered that Thailand has a political culture where the military tends to have very strong public support.

Security and stability must be handled by a competent executive. People want to see peace on the street, mafias dismantled, safe communities and public transport, and sound regulation of foreign workers. The military sensed this and moved very quickly in the days immediately after the coup to handle these issues. Opinion polls suggest that the public believe that these issues have been handled effectively. The Thai economy remains a concern for many; slow growth rates, poor export figures and rising debt. Public spending, infrastructural investment, regional projects and government negotiations may be a way to stimulate the economy. Once confidence that security and stability, and a rebounding economy have been established, the reform process can then get started.

The military have slowly devolved power away from the NCPO to the National Legislative Assembly, the Cabinet and now the National Reform Council. It is still military dominated, but civilian participation is growing.

Dr. Panitan suggested that once the NRC is established, areas of reform beyond the initial 11 outlined by PM Prayut will begin to emerge. Political reform, however, remains central to the entire reform process. The political structure, rules, elections, and checks and balances should be prioritised in order to pave the way for other reforms. The trick for the current government is how to achieve an ideal balance between these contesting forces. Regardless of affiliation, stakeholders from political parties, NGOs, institutions, private sector and community groups must engage with the NLA and NRC. For the reformers to find where this equilibrium lies, Dr. Panitan believes that they will need more engagement with the public through public forums and hearings. Thai people have an affection for the Monarchy, the military and bureaucratic system, so any reforms will need to keep this in mind.

The challenge for the NLA and NRC is to find an ideal balance or equilibrium between the need for good checks-and-balances, a functional merit system and a move away from the patron-client system, the roles of the Monarchy, military and bureaucratic system, public safety, a strong economy and the ongoing participation of the public through elections and activism. If this balance can be achieved, the Thai people will have restored confidence in the reform process, new political structure, Constitution, and Thai society as a whole.





Question and Answers:

Moderator: The theme of political socialisation has been alluded to a number of times. What makes Thai people tick? It has been surprising to many that there is no civil war in Thailand. A year ago there were reports of militias being set up and radicalised elements emerging in parts of the country. You would expect that that these people would be rising up against the coup, but so far they have been quiet. This reinforces the idea that Thai people have a great tolerance.


Public Question: Mr. Suranand is a big supporter of the liberal electoral process – that is an extreme political system. The other end of the extreme is an absolute dictatorship. Perhaps we should be looking towards more of a middle path. Given the level of development of Thai society which has a majority of poor people, are there any examples of other countries which have a harmonious liberal democratic electoral system at the same time as having low economic development?

Mr. Suranand: I am indeed a supporter of liberal democracy. In every democratic country or state there may be slightly different conditions or rules, but the continual practise of democracy as a whole is an accepted value. The concern in Thailand is that another value, the “third-way” or “benevolent dictatorship,” starts to gain credence.

Another concern is the categorisation of Thailand’s political conflict as being a product of rich-vs-poor polarisation. The Red Shirts who came to protest in Bangkok are part of an emerging middle class. These people have values, interests and dreams, and the political system must provide them equal opportunities to see those dreams come to fruition.

Moderator: There is a prevalent view that there is a correlation between the level of development and the political regime/government which ideal for that country. The argument goes that if the country is not sufficiently developed or poor, then the citizenry is not adequately informed for liberal democracy.

Mr. Suranand: I strongly disagree with this. Yes, we need to get people educated and knowledgeable about the political process, but they also participate in elections in order to learn how a democracy works.

Moderator: Thailand is classed as an upper-middle income country. It is no longer a low-income country. So, if we are to accept this prevalent view about the development/democracy correlation, how and who would determine when the appropriate income level is reach for us to be ready for a liberal democracy? We will leave that point for now.


Public Question: Prof. Gothom touched on Article 44 of the Constitution, which gives General Prayut and the NCPO sweeping powers. It seems as if Article 44 might be a precursor for a political system which draws inspiration from Iran where you have the Supreme Council determining who can and who cannot run for government.

It is quite a typical article for a provisional government. The NCPO added this to ensure that they could retain control over the government and mitigate against any conflicts. However, in the provisional post-coup system, the head of the government and the head of the NCPO is the same person. This is only provisional and shouldn’t be a concern.

Moderator: Have you seen kind of article this before

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