Jacob Dihel Recitation Fri 1:00
Historically, Thailand has always stood apart from its neighboring southeast Asian countries. Managing to avoid the colonization efforts of Europe, Thailand has remained independent throughout its immense, roughly 1000 year history (Hafner). In addition, it’s one of the longest remaining monarchies; even though government rule has been tumultuous since the start of the 20th century, the monarchy has always been stable, with King Bhumibol Adulyadej serving as the longest active monarch in the world, first coming to power in 1946 (BBC News 2015). But even though this gives the impression of stability, Thailand’s government has gone through numerous power shifts and fundamental changes throughout the 20th century, and its categorization as a democracy is up for debate.
Throughout the world, many different types of governing bodies exist, and the type of ruling body can be split into some basic categories. There’s the rule by one person (dictatorship), the rule by a small group of people (oligarchy), and the rule everyone (democracy). Countries are measured on a scale between the two extremes, dictatorship and democracy, and these can further be split up into substantive or minimalist views. A minimalist view determines these classifications based solely on whether or not certain democratic institutions are in place, whereas a substantive view takes into account these institutions, but also examines the outcomes that those institutions produce.
Additionally, governments can be broken down into either a dichotomous view or a continuous view. Dichotomous is the more rigid of the two measurement views. Under a dichotomous view, a governing body is either a democracy or a dictatorship, with no real room in between. This is covered in the Democracy-Dictatorship, or DD measuring scale.
In the DD scale, there are four requirements for a country to be a democracy. The chief executive must be elected, the legislature must be elected, there is more than one party competing in elections, and there must be an alternation of power under identical electoral rules. If these requirements are all met, then a country is deemed a democracy, but if any one is not met, it is a dictatorship. It very much exemplifies the minimalist view of measurement as well, only focusing on if the institutions for a democracy are in place.
A continuous view, on the other hand, is more fluid in its analysis. The Polity IV scale, for example, applies a score from -10 to 10 from autocracies to democracies, respectively. The Polity scale examines the institutions of a country’s government and whether or not they meet certain democratic criteria, such as competitiveness of executive recruitment and competitiveness of participation. A country’s score has the potential to change every year, depending on how democratic it is and what changes occur in its government.
One final measurement system is the Freedom House. Whereas the other two systems take a more minimalist view of determining a country’s democracy, the Freedom House takes a more substantive view and attempts a measurement of a country’s freedom. Freedom is a more nebulous concept to measure, so the Freedom House looks at how human rights and democracy and things of that nature are handled in each country measured. Countries are assigned scores based on the freedoms they have, which are then averaged out and their level of freedom is determined.
Thailand is currently in a state of flux as far as its government is concerned. In May of 2014, the military staged a coup and ousted prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, who was in turn ousted in a coup in 2006 (Blake 2014). Since then, the country has been primarily been under control of the military, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha being elected by a military appointed parliament in 2014 (BBC 2015). Elections have been delayed by the military, with the next scheduled election taking place in 2017 (Blake 2014).
It’s very difficult to gauge whether or not Thailand is a democracy or a dictatorship, and to what degree. Prior to the coup, Thailand had enjoyed elections of government officials at regular intervals, but as it stands now it is uncertain when the next public election is going to take place. For its DD categorization, the most recent legislation was appointed by the military, so in accordance with the DD rules Thailand is a dictatorship. Thailand’s Polity score, however, is a 7, which is considerably democratic, and was last updated June 5, 2014. It is unclear why Thailand’s score is so high, considering that at the time it was updated the coup had already taken place and changes to the government would have been enacted (Marshall 2014).
Thailand’s Freedom House score falls more in line with conventional thinking on the matter, scoring a 5.5 out of 7, which is decidedly not free (Freedom House 2015). A referendum has passed, approving of a new constitution and removing the public’s vote for members of the senate and the next prime minister, instead putting that duty in the hands of the military and the members of senate and parliament, respectively (Election Guide 2016). In addition to controlling the electoral process, the military also has control over the internet and press in Thailand, although citizens are still free to travel and pursue higher education in certain parts of the country that are not affected by conflict (Freedom House 2015).
From this information, the conclusion that I take away is that Thailand is not a democracy or a dictatorship, but more akin to a military oligarchy. I feel the DD classification isn’t flexible enough for this situation, as Thailand certainly does not meet the criteria for a democracy, but power is not concentrated in one individual; and the Polity score seems way off of the reality of Thailand’s current political situation. Of the three measurement systems, I definitely feel that the Freedom House is the most accurate representation of Thailand’s government, properly assessing the restrictions that the military has placed on the public in their political and civil freedom. And, given the passage of the new constitution, I don’t think that Thailand is going to become more democratic anytime in the near future.