Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Government Overview: Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected bicameral legislature. After years of military-controlled governments, Thailand has become a multiparty political system, albeit one often dependent on the formation of coalitions of numerous parties in order to form a government. The current administration is the first ever single-party, democratically elected government in Thailand’s history. King Bhumibol, who has reigned since 1946, exerts a strong informal influence in politics but has never used his constitutional power to veto legislation or dissolve the legislature. The current constitution, the sixteenth since 1932, was approved by the National Assembly on September 27, 1997, and signed by the king and enacted on October 11, 1997. It is organized into 12 chapters and 313 sections, with an additional 23 sections covering the transition leading to the implementation of the constitution.

Executive Branch: The constitutional monarch and head of state, since June 9, 1946, is King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty). The constitution recognizes the king as a Buddhist but also as “upholder of religions.” The Privy Council is an 18-member constitutional body that advises the king on matters of legislation, government affairs, clemency, awards, and other matters requiring the king’s signature. The Privy Council, whose members are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the king, also recommends the name of a suitable person to hold the position of regent when the king is absent from Thailand or unable to perform his duties. Executive power is conducted through the Council of Ministers—the cabinet—which is led by the head of government, Prime Minister Police Lieutenant Colonel Thaksin Chinnawat (since February 9, 2001). Thaksin is assisted by one military deputy prime minister and five civilian deputy prime ministers. In 2005 there were 19 cabinet-level ministries and one minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Legislative Branch: Thailand has a bicameral legislature called the National Assembly (Rathasapha), which consists of two chambers. The Senate (Wuthisapha) has 200 members who are popularly elected from single-seat constituencies on a nonpartisan basis for six-year terms; the number of Senate seats is determined proportionally by province. The House of Representatives (Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon) has 438 members elected by popular vote for four-year terms. In the House, 100 seats are based on proportional representation by province and 400 on multiseat constituencies. As of 2005, all 100 proportional seats and 338 of the multiseat constituencies had been filled. The president of the House serves concurrently as president of the National Assembly, and the president of the Senate serves as vice president of the National Assembly. In certain instances, such as the appointment of a regent, declarations by a regent, amendment of the Palace Law on Succession, approval of succession to the throne, reconsideration of bills or organic law bills, constitutional amendments, a declaration of war, or approval of treaties, joint sessions of the National Assembly are held. The most recent Senate elections were held between March and July 2000; the next are scheduled for March 2006. The most recent House elections were held on February 6, 2005, and will next be held in February 2009.

Judicial Branch: Thailand has a three-level court system collectively known as the Courts of Justice. At the top is the Supreme Court of Justice. Below it are the Court of Appeal and, at the third level, the Courts of First Instance. The independent Constitutional Court interprets the constitution. The National Assembly can refer executive decrees to the Constitutional Court for review. Supreme Court of Justice and Constitutional Court justices are subject to Senate approval. Other judges are members of the career civil service and are not subject to parliamentary review. Separate administrative courts adjudicate disputes involving state agencies, state enterprises, and local government organizations, or between state officials and private individuals, and there are administrative appellate and supreme administrative courts at higher levels. A separate Military Court deals with military personnel and persons arrested during periods of martial law. Islamic sharia courts hear civil cases involving members of the Muslim minority.

Administrative Divisions: Thailand has 76 provinces (changwat), including Bangkok Municipality. The provinces are divided into 795 districts (amphoe), 81 subdistricts (king amphoe), 7,255 rural administrative subdistricts (tambon), and 69,866 villages (muban).

Provincial and Local Government: Local government is based on the principles of decentralization and self-government when certain legal conditions are met. The constitution allows for elected local assemblies and elected or appointed local administrative committees for four-year terms. Central government officials may not serve as local officials. Bangkok is a provincial-level entity with an elected governor and the legislative Metropolitan Administration Council. Supervision of provincial and local government takes place through the Department of Local Administration of the Ministry of Interior.

Judicial and Legal System: The Thai legal system is based on an amalgam of traditional and modern laws and customs, including Islamic law, where applicable. Most of the modern legal system is based on criminal, civil, and commercial codes adopted from the British and other European legal systems, along with borrowings from India, China, Japan, and the United States. Traditional civil rights are protected by the constitution. There is no trial by jury in Thailand. A single judge decides trials for misdemeanors; two or more judges are required for more serious cases. The constitution provides for the presumption of innocence, and criminal detainees are guaranteed access to legal counsel; however, it has been claimed that local police often ignore this procedure and conduct interrogations of suspects without providing access to an attorney. Regulations outlined in the Criminal Code require public prosecutors to rely exclusively on the recommendations of the police when determining whether to bring a case forward for criminal prosecution. Police are required to bring criminal cases to prosecutors for the filing of court charges within 48 hours of arrest. Extensions of up to three days are permitted, and police, with court permission, may hold suspects for up to 82 days for serious offenses while investigations are being conducted.

Electoral System: There are no elections for the heads of state and government. The monarchy is hereditary and based on the Palace Law of Succession enacted in 1924, which allows the king to appoint his heir. If he has failed to do so, the Privy Council nominates an heir for National Assembly consideration. The heir suggested by the Privy Council may be a prince or princess. The prime minister is selected from among the members of the House of Representatives following elections. Officially, the king appoints the prime minister, who is normally the leader of the party that has an outright majority or organizes a majority coalition in the House of Representatives. The Senate also is elected by popular vote for non-party candidates. The election process is viewed as generally free and fair, but the most recent House elections (February 6, 2005) were marred by widespread vote buying and the killing of political canvassers during the campaign. Elections are supervised by an independent government agency, the Election Commission. Voters must be 18 years of age as of January 1 of the year of the election, must be citizens, and, if naturalized, must have been in such status for at least five years. The constitution prohibits Buddhist priests, monks, novices, and clergy from voting.

Politics and Political Parties: Following the February 6, 2005, elections, the majority party in the House of Representatives is the Phak Thai Rak Thai (Thai Loves Thai Party), with 375 seats (60.7 percent). The Phak Prachathipat (Democratic Party) holds 96 seats (18.3 percent); the Phak Chat Thai (Thai Nation Party), 27 seats (11.4 percent); and the Phak Mahachon (Great People’s Party), 2 seats (8.3 percent). Other parties receiving small numbers of votes in the February 6, 2005, elections did not win seats in the House.

Mass Media: The Thai media are generally free but act with restraint because of fear of lawsuits and, from time to time, government censorship. There are 15 major Thai-language daily newspapers, 4 major English-language dailies, and 4 major Chinese-language dailies. Thailand also has 204 AM radio stations, 334 FM radio stations, 6 shortwave stations, and 5 television broadcast stations.

Foreign Relations: In 2005 Thailand maintained diplomatic relations with 131 nations plus the European Union and the Holy See. Thailand is a charter member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Relations occasionally have been strained with Burma, Cambodia, and Malaysia over border, insurgency, and refugee issues. Relations with Cambodia were severely strained in 2003 when a Thai actress allegedly claimed that the temple complex at Angkor Wat in Cambodia belonged to Thailand. Rioters attacked the Thai embassy and Thai businesses in Phnom Penh, and Bangkok temporarily downgraded relations and closed the border. Thailand’s foreign policy includes emphasis on a close and longstanding security relationship with the United States.

Membership in International Organizations: Thailand belongs to the following international organizations: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asia-Pacific Telecommunity, Asian Development Bank, Asian Institute of Technology, Asian-Pacific Postal Training Centre, Asian Reinsurance Corporation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the ASEAN Regional Forum, Bank for International Settlements, Colombo Plan, Committee for Coordination of Joint Prospecting for Mineral Resources in Asian Offshore Areas, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Chamber of Commerce, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Criminal Court, International Criminal Police Organization, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Hydrographic Organization, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Migration, International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Mekong River Commission, Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific, Nonaligned Movement, Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (partner), Organization of American States (observer), Organization of the Islamic Conference (observer), Permanent Court of Arbitration, Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Secretariat, World Confederation of Labor, World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization. Within the United Nations (UN) system, Thailand is a member of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Food and Agriculture Organization; International Bank for Reconstruction and Development; International Civil Aviation Organization; International Development Association; International Finance Corporation; International Fund for Agricultural Development; International Labour Organization; International Maritime Organization; International Monetary Fund; International Telecommunication Union; Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency; UN Children’s Fund; UN Conference on Trade and Development; UN Development Fund for Women; UN Development Programme; UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; UN Environment Programme; UN High Commissioner for Refugees; UN Industrial Development Organization; UN Office on Drugs and Crime; UN Population Fund; UN Regional Center for East Asia and the Pacific; Universal Postal Union; World Health Organization; World Intellectual Property Organization; and World Meteorological Organization.

Major International Treaties: Thailand is a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention; Chemical Weapons Convention; Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare; Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space, and Under Water; and Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies. Thailand also is a party to the Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Waste, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, and Wetlands environmental agreements. It has signed but not ratified the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty.


Armed Forces Overview: The military includes three branches: the Royal Thai Army (190,000), the Royal Thai Navy (79,200, including 1,940 naval aviation personnel and 19,700 members of the Royal Thai Marine Corps), and the Royal Thai Air Force (estimated at 45,000). Reserve forces total 200,000 personnel. Military forces are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Defense, and, in the past, the supreme commander of the armed forces has been a major political force. The king is the de jure head of the armed forces.

Foreign Military Relations: A longstanding ally of the United States, Thailand signed numerous bilateral defense and mutual security agreements between 1950 and 2003. In 2002 Thailand received Foreign Military Assistance from the United States in the amount of US$3 million; in 2003 it received US$3.7 million and in 2004, US$3.4 million. Most Thai military equipment is from the United States, United Kingdom, and China.

External Threat: Thailand faces a number of external threats from cross-border activities. Those on the border with Burma involve the handling of ethnic rebels, refugees, and illegal crossings, often related to drugs and arms trafficking. There have been periodic armed border clashes between Thai and Burmese border guards. Some 98,000 Karen refugees live in camps on the Thai side of the Burma-Thailand border, and rebel members of this group have occasionally skirmished with Thai troops. In 2001 and 2002, Thai and pro-Rangoon forces clashed in Thai territory, leading to strained relations between the two nations. Similarly, separatist insurgents in predominantly Muslim southern Thailand allegedly have operated from neighboring Malaysia, leading to cooperation between the two governments and Malaysian arrests of separatist ringleaders. Thailand has periodically closed border areas where communist Cambodian insurgents at odds with the Phnom Penh government control neighboring territory. The Cambodian government has accused Thailand of complicity with the insurgents.

Defense Budget: The estimated military expenditure for fiscal year 2000 was US$1.8 billion. In 2003 defense expenditures were 1.8 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The 2004 defense budget was projected at US$1.9 billion.

Major Military Units: The army has four regional armies, two corps, three armored infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions, two mechanized infantry divisions, two special forces divisions, one artillery division, one air defense artillery division, one engineer division, one economic development division, one independent cavalry regiment, eight independent infantry battalions, four reconnaissance companies, and one armored air cavalry regiment. Four rapid-reaction force battalions are being formed, and there are four reserve infantry divisions. The navy has three fleets (North Gulf, South Gulf, and Andaman Sea), one naval air division, and five naval bases (including one supporting its Mekong River Operating Unit). The marines are organized into one division with two infantry regiments, one artillery regiment, one amphibious assault battalion, and one reconnaissance battalion. The air force is organized into four air divisions.

Major Military Equipment: The army has between 330 and 380 main battle tanks of various types, between 210 and 460 light tanks (some in storage), 32 reconnaissance vehicles, about 950 armored personnel carriers, 550 pieces of towed artillery, 20 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 1,900 mortars, more than 320 air defense guns, and an arsenal of antitank guided weapons, rocket launchers, recoilless launchers, and surface-to-air missiles. The army also has an unmanned autonomous search vehicle, a variety of fixed-wing aircraft, 3 attack helicopters, 158 transport helicopters, and 40 training helicopters. The navy has 1 aircraft carrier, 12 frigates, 5 corvettes, 6 fast attack craft armed with missiles, 15 patrol craft, 7 mine warfare ships, 7 amphibious forces ships, and 15 support and miscellaneous ships. Naval aviation has 27 combat aircraft, 1 antisubmarine warfare aircraft, 24 maritime air patrol planes, 2 transports, 2 search-and-rescue planes, 14 antisubmarine warfare helicopters, 5 search-and-rescue helicopters, and 6 transport helicopters. The marine corps has 33 assault amphibian vehicles, 24 armored personnel carriers, 48 pieces of towed artillery, 14 air defense guns, and 24 or more antitank guided weapons. The air force has 194 combat aircraft, 1 electronic intelligence aircraft, 3 reconnaissance aircraft, 2 survey planes, 38 transport aircraft, and a small fleet of aircraft used by the king and other VIPs as well as aircraft used for liaison purposes. Although the air force has no armed helicopters, it does have 34 unarmed helicopters. On the ground, the air force has one ntiaircraft artillery battalion and surface-to-air missile forces.


Military Service: Men reaching 21 years of age are subject to two years of compulsory military service. Volunteers may join at the minimum age of 18. Women play a role in the armed forces but are not accepted in the police or military academies. They do serve, however, as military academy instructors.

Paramilitary Forces: Thailand has about 113,700 active-duty paramilitary personnel. These forces include about 20,000 members of a light infantry force called the Thahan Phran (Hunter Soldiers or Royal Thai Rangers), which was organized in 1978 to fight communist guerrillas and is now deployed in active troublespots along the border. The 45,000-strong Volunteer Defense Corps provides the border patrol police with law and order support during military emergencies and natural disasters.

Foreign Military Forces: Singapore maintains a training camp for artillery and combat engineers in Thailand. The United States has 30 air force, 10 navy, and 29 marine corps personnel station in Thailand.

Military Forces Abroad: Thailand had about 500 troops in Iraq from October 2003 to September 2004 and also sent a small contingent to Afghanistan. Since 2000, Thailand has sent observers, police, and troops to the following United Nations (UN) multinational peacekeeping operations: UN Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission (UNIKOM), UN Mission in Bosnia Herzegovina (UNMIBH), UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), and UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). In 2005 it had 177 troops and three observers with the United Nations Operation in Burundi (ONUB) and a military observer force of three personnel with the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

Police and Internal Security: The Royal Thai Police have approximately 200,000 officers organized in 10 geographic regions. These forces include provincial police, marine police, police aviation, and border patrol police. The national police are under the command of the police commissioner general, who reports directly to the prime minister and the 20-member Police Commission. The police commissioner general is appointed by the prime minister, subject to cabinet and royal approval. The Border Patrol Police have special authority and responsibility in border areas to combat insurgent and separatist movements. Thailand also has a Central Police Academy and provincial police training schools.

Terrorism: Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Thailand has pledged itself as a strong ally in the United States-led war on terrorism. Thailand itself has been confronted with terrorist violence, primarily in the predominantly Muslim southern provinces of Narathiwat, Pattani, and Yala, which border Malaysia. In 2002 Thai police officers were killed and bombs were detonated when the minister of interior toured the violence-prone area; five schools suffered damage from arsonists. The Thai military attributed these actions to Guragan Mujahideen Islam Pattani (Pattani Islamic Mujahideen Movement), thought to be an al Qaeda affiliate, which was established in 1995 as a constituent group of Bersatu (United Front for the Independence of Pattani). Bersatu was established in 1989, and both organizations have the goal of establishing a Muslim state in southern Thailand. In 2003 suspected members of Jemaah Islamiah (Community of Islam, a regional group with affiliations with al Qaeda established in 1993 or 1994), who were arrested in June 2003, confessed to plotting attacks on embassies in Bangkok and tourist sites. Further arsons and bombings and attacks on police and army bases in 2004 heightened the terrorist threat. When seven Muslim protesters were shot and 78 others died in police custody in October 2004, 30 Buddhists were killed in November in retaliation. In 2004 alone, more than 500 people died as a result of insurgent and terrorist violence in the south. This separatist violence has led to border closures and security tightening with neighboring Malaysia to inhibit terrorist activities. Fears of terrorism against its own tourist resorts emanated from the terrorist bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2002. There were allegations that the Bali bombers, members of Jemaah Islamiah, may have planned their attack while living in southern Thailand.

Human Rights: The constitution provides for freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly and association, religion, and movement within the country and abroad. The government is reported generally to respect the rights of its citizens. However, the U.S. Department of State reports significant problems in areas where separatist violence has occurred, particularly in the predominantly Muslim south. Some 180 persons are reported to have died there while in the custody in 2004. Security forces have sometime operated in “a climate of impunity,” have used excessive, lethal force against criminal suspects, and reportedly have committed or been connected to numerous extrajudicial, arbitrary, and unlawful killings. The government’s antidrug war in 2003 resulted in more than 1,300 extrajudicial killings of suspected drug traffickers. Prison conditions and some provincial immigration detention facilities are characterized as poor. In 2004 more than 1,600 persons died in prison or police custody, 131 as a result of police actions. Trafficking in women and children and forced prostitution and labor are serious problems in Thailand. It is conservatively estimated that 200,000 women and children are engaged in prostitution as part of Thailand’s illegal sex tourism industry. Of these, between 30,000 and 40,000 prostitutes are under the age of 18 years; this figure does not include foreign migrants, many of whom come from Burma, China, and Laos. Thai and migrant women also are trafficked to Japan, Malaysia, Bahrain, Australia, South Africa, Europe, and the United States for prostitution and sweatshop labor.


September 2005


Formal Name: Kingdom of Thailand (Ratcha'anachak Thai). ราชอาณาจักรไทย

Short Form: Thailand (Prathet Thai—ประเทศไทย—Land of the Free, or, less formally, Muang Thai—เมืองไทย—also meaning Land of the Free; officially known from 1855 to 1939 and from 1946 to 1949 as Siam—Prathet Sayam, ประเทศสยาม, a historical name referring to people in the Chao Phraya Valley—the name used by Europeans since 1592).

Term for Citizen(s): Thai (singular and plural). พลเมือง

Capital: Bangkok (in Thai, Krung Thep, กรุงเทพ—City of Angels).

Major Cities: The largest metropolitan area is the capital, Bangkok, with an estimated 9.6 million inhabitants in 2002. According to the 2000 Thai census, 6.3 million people were living in the metropolitan area (combining Bangkok and Thon Buri). Other major cities, based on 2000 census data, include Samut Prakan (378,000), Nanthaburi (291,000), Udon Thani (220,000), and Nakhon Ratchasima (204,000). Fifteen other cities had populations of more than 100,000 in 2000.

Independence: The traditional founding date is 1238. Unlike other nations in Southeast Asia, Thailand was never colonized.

National Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), Makha Bucha Day (Buddhist All Saints Day, movable date in late January to early March), Chakri Day (celebration of the current dynasty, April 6), Songkran Day (New Year’s according to Thai lunar calendar, movable date in April), National Labor Day (May 1), Coronation Day (May 5), Visakha Bucha Day (Triple Anniversary Day—commemorates the birth, death, and enlightenment of Buddha, movable date in May), Asanha Bucha Day (Buddhist Monkhood Day, movable date in July), Khao Phansa (beginning of Buddhist Lent, movable date in July), Queen’s Birthday (August 12), Chulalongkorn Day (birthday of King Rama V, October 23), King’s Birthday—Thailand’s National Day (December 5), Constitution Day (December 10), and New Year’s Eve (December 31). The Thai calendar has been adapted to the Western calendar of days, weeks, and months. Years are numbered according to the Buddhist era, which commenced 543 years before the Christian era. Therefore, 2005 is the year 2548 in the Buddhist era.

Flag: Five horizontal bands of red (on top), white, blue (double width), white,

and red. The red stripes represent unity of the nation, the white strips represent

purity of religion, and the blue stripe in the center represents the king.

Click to Enlarge Image

Index for Thailand:
Overview | Government


Country profiles index | What's new | Rainforests | Madagascar