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By the year 2012 Thailand had gone through 28 different prime ministers and 18 constitutions. After seizing administrative power in 1932, Khana Rat declared a temporary constitution, which stipulated that in the parliamentary form of government the King had to be under the constitution, the House of Representatives was the legislative organization, the People?s Committee (or the Cabinet) was the administrative organization, and the law courts were the representatives of judicial power.

In a national referendum held 07 August 2016, a new military-backed draft constitution was adopted. The new constitution, a sharp departure from previous charters, curbed the powers of elected parties and proposed a military appointed 250-member senate that included senior representatives of the military, police and security forces. The 250 senators picked by the junta, or the National Council for Peace and Order, would have the power to elect a prime minister along with 500 elected members of the House of Representatives. Thailand’s military leaders said the charter was aimed at ending political corruption and setting a path of reform with national elections due in 2017. Some 50 million Thai voters answered two questions on the ballot - one, whether they accept the draft constitution. The second question was whether they would approve a junta-appointed upper house, joining parliament's lower house to elect a prime minister to serve a five-year transitional period from military rule.

The draft charter included anti-democratic provisions designed primarily to prevent any group loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck from assuming power. The draft Constitution had a number of controversial provisions, including:

  • Immunity would be allowed for the generals who seized power in May 2014 (a similar proposal made in 2013 triggered mass protests and led eventually to the 2014 military coup);
  • The House of Representatives would have the power to nominate via a two-thirds vote anyone it deems suitable for appointment as Prime Minister (that is, the individual would not have to be elected nor be affiliated with any political party);
  • Future elections would be held under a proportional representation system, which would favor smaller political parties and coalition governments;
  • 123 of 200 Senators would be appointed, with only the rest elected;
  • Election campaign rules would be stricter, with the Election Commission requiring campaigns to be authorized in advance, public debate being mandatory, and “populist policies” filtered out (through methods yet to be defined), among other requirements;
  • Impeachment rules would be relaxed to require only a simple majority parliamentary vote for a motion for impeachment to pass;
  • A National Moral Assembly (provided for under § 74) will prepare or approve a Code of Ethics, carry out background checks, and establish moral standards for public officials, among other tasks; and
  • Section 7 of the 2007 Constitution, which provided that if no constitutional provision were applicable to a case, it would be decided in accordance with a constitutional convention of the democratic regime, with the King as Head of State, would be reinstituted, but the CDC has made the clarification that the Constitutional Court would be fully empowered to interpret such a constitutional convention.

Voters also approved a second initiative, which allowed the National Council to appoint the full 250-member Senate for five-year terms; the Senate will have a role in selecting the Prime Minister, a function previously restricted to the House of Representatives. The 250 senators, appointed by the military, and 500 elected members of the House of Representatives, approved the charter. The two houses of parliament are empowered to select prime ministers. The military government imposed tough restrictions on political parties with no clear timeline or legal structure for when they will again be allowed to be active ahead of new elections.

Thailand’s newest constitution, signed into law by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, opens the way to new elections in late 2018. The elaborate signing ceremony 06 April 2017 marked a fresh bid to ensure a constitution that can be sustained. It was the 20th charter since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932; past ones had been tossed out over years of political volatility and military coups.

Background

Since the declaration of the first constitution, the politics and government of Thailand have continued to develop under the democratic system. In 1997 a new constitution was adopted, which gave equal rights and freedom to all the people. This constitution was replaced by a new one in 2007.

The new leaders of 1932 realized that the goal of popularly-elected government could not be attained immediately, and that considerable experimentation and adaptation would be necessary before a balance could be struck. For this reason, the first constitution was a cautious document that created a bicameral National Assembly with two categories of members,half of whom were elected by popular vote (the Lower House), the other half (the Upper House or Senate) being appointed by the King on the recommendation of the Council of Ministers (now called the cabinet).

Every constitution holds that the Prime Minister is chief of government and head executive. A slight difference between the Thai Prime Minister and those in other countries is that, since the creation of the post of the Prime Minister in 1933, the Thais have often looked to their Prime Minister as a protective figure, possibly due to their tendency to extend family structure into the sphere of government.Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws; Koranic law is applied in the far south, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeals, and its judges are appointed by the king.

The inauguration of a democratic political system, and the declaration of the first constitution, took place on 10 December 1932. Since then there have been several constitutions, but in general, the constitutions of the Kingdom of Thailand adhere to several principles.

The first concept of the constitution concerns the role of the king. Every version of the constitution stipulates that the king is the leader of the country, the commander- in-chief of the Thai army, and the patron of all religions. He is above politics, holds a position of neutrality in politics, and exercises the people's democratic power through the state organizations.

The second concept relates to the legislative arm. Despite changes in the form of Parliament from the first constitution to the present 1997 Constitution, the 16th, the Thai legislative institution retains the duty to issue laws, and at the same time to counterbalance the administrative power. It has the right to sign a motion to open parlia- mentary debate against the government?s operation, and to raise queries against the government or an individual Cabinet member.

The third concept involves administrative power. The administrative power resides in the Cabinet, which is led by the prime minister. The party that has the majority votes in an election will set up the government, and the leader of the party will be the prime minister.

The final concept relates to judicial power. King Rama V established the Ministry of Justice, and that was the starting point for Thailand to adopt the Western system of law. The system has been continuously developed on the basis that judicial power must be independent of, and separate from, other powers so that judgment will truly be fair. The legal system, which is responsible for both civil suits and criminal cases, is divided into three levels, namely the Magistrate Court, the Appeal Court, and the Supreme Court.

Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws. Under the constitution, the Constitutional Court is the highest court of appeals, though its jurisdiction is limited to clearly defined constitutional issues. Its members are nominated by a committee of judges, leaders in parliament, and senior independent officials, whose nominees are confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the King. The Courts of Justice have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases and are organized in three tiers: Courts of First Instance, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice. Administrative courts have jurisdiction over suits between private parties and the government, and cases in which one government entity is suing another.

Currently, there is such a large number of lawsuits that the three levels of the judiciary cannot sufficiently serve the people. As a result, some special courts have been set up in accordance with the types of cases and social conditions, such as a Juvenile Court, a Labor Court, a Local Administration Court, and a Military Court, among others.

In addition, Thailand also gives specific rights to the Muslims in four provinces in the South, specifically Satun, Yala, Pattani, and Narathiwat. The Act of Islamic Law Practice was issued in 1946 to be used in civil suits concerning families and inheritance among Thai Muslims because Islam has special features that differ from other religions. Islam has provisions concerning the family which do not relate to the way of life of the rest of Thai society. The agreement to use Islamic law adapts to the real practices of most people because more than 80 percent of the population in these four provinces are Muslim. This law is used when both parties are Muslim. The final judgment in a civil suit concerning a family and inheritance among the Islamic people is given by Dato Yutitham, whose judgment is considered final in such cases.

The new constitution drafted by Thailand’s military-backed government aimed at returning the country to democratic rule, but by April 2015 the draft version faced criticism by a wide range of political parties. This would be the 20th constitution since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and its supporters say it tries to succeed where the others failed – to create a stable and enduring democracy. But it drew opposition from the country’s two major political parties, who say it weakens their influence and would do little to end the political polarization that has divided the country over the past 15 years.

The charter created a 450-seat House of Representatives, whose members are elected under a proportional representation system that analysts say will lead to a greater number of lawmakers from smaller political parties. This would weaken the influence of major political parties, creating a greater need for coalition governments. An upper house, 200-member Senate will comprise some elected members but also nominated groups, including former members of the military and bureaucracy as well as representatives of labor, farmers, academics and grassroot organizations.

The military government called for amendments to a second draft charter that would include a military appointed 250-member Senate. This varied from the drafting committee’s version that called for a 200-member Senate comprised of members elected from organizations and social groups within the country.

On 11 April 2016 the leadership of Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrats, joined other political groups in opposing a military-backed draft constitution. The Democrat Party’s opposition left in doubt an August referendum on the new charter, as it lined up with other political parties in calling for the document to be rejected.

Thailand's Election Commission (EC) said 07 August 2016 that with 94 percent of ballots counted, the draft constitution and its additional question were adopted in the referendum. Unofficial results from the Election Commission showed 15.56 million Thais, or 61.4 percent of total voters, backed the draft constitution as 9.78 million, or 38.6 percent, voted against it.




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