In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Politics of Thailand

  • Introduction
  • General Sources
  • State Formation: Development of the Thai State
  • Nation-Building: Development of the Thai Nation
  • The Monarchy
  • The Military
  • Political Economy
  • Democratization
  • Political Parties
  • Local Politics
  • Women and Politics
  • Civil Society
  • Religion and Politics
  • Constitutional and Political Reform
  • Political Conflict
  • Regionalism and Conflict
  • Policymaking
  • The Media and Politics

Political Science Politics of Thailand
James Ockey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0154


The study of Thai politics has much to contribute to comparative politics, across a broad range of topics. The development of an independent state at an early period, and the reinforcing of that state through the promotion of a conservative national identity, has been central to both Thai politics and the study of Thai politics over many years. This centralized state has been captured by an elite that, originally confined to the royal family, has grown to include other powerful groups, most notably the military. Economic change during the 1960s and 1970s created new social forces that have sought to democratize Thailand, so that the study of Thai politics contributes to both an understanding of democratization, particularly in opposition to a centralized state, with a weakly organized civil society and an inconsistently democratic middle class. Thailand has also experienced a plethora of coups, as the military has largely resisted democratization, making it a useful case for the study of civil-military relations. In recent years, political parties have undergone significant development, as they have begun to consolidate and achieve voter loyalty that extends beyond patron-client ties, while still retaining fascinating aspects of clientelism alongside the new loyalties. The combination of clientelism, a centralized state with substantial military involvement, corruption, and culture have also placed obstacles in the way of overt female involvement in politics, leading to debates on the importance of women indirectly, and on the ways to best pursue greater gender equality. Despite—or perhaps because of—the attempts to promote a unified Thai identity, regionalism continues to spark conflict, which has been particularly violent in the Muslim majority provinces of the far south. As one of the countries stuck for the longest time in the “middle-income trap,” with high levels of inequality, Thailand provides a powerful case study for political economists.

General Sources

The literature on Thai politics in English, while limited in quantity, is generally quite strong. Historically, there have rarely been more than two general works on Thai politics at a time. At present there are two very good sources on Thai political history, both well worth reading. The most recent, Ferrara 2014, is by a political scientist, while the other, Pasuk and Baker 2002, is by two scholars who were trained in economics but have long written on politics. A third work, Chai-Anan 2002, is published in Thailand and less well known abroad, but it has been influential in its Thai version. It presents a clear framework for analyzing Thai politics that perhaps deserves more attention from scholars working in English, and is by the eminent political scientist Chai-Anan Samudavanija. For journals, the only widely available English language journal on Thailand is the Journal of the Siam Society, which focuses on history and culture. Otherwise, some Thai universities produce English language journals, most of them interdisciplinary with limited distribution outside Thailand. Thus, Thai politics is best covered in English in broader Asian Studies journals.

  • Asian Survey.

    Published by University of California Press, Asian Survey aims at both the scholarly community and at the wider community of analysts and intellectuals with an interest in Asia. The annual updates for each country at the beginning of each year are particularly useful in providing an overview of key events in politics.

  • Chai-Anan Samudavanija. Thailand: State-Building, Democracy, and Globalization. Bangkok: Institute of Public Policy Studies, 2002.

    Chai-Anan proposes a model for understanding Asian politics that posits that governments must seek legitimacy along three sometimes contradictory dimensions: security, participation, and development. He also notes that Thai constitutions have been accepted as legal frameworks, but not as setting out processes of direct participation for all citizens. He argues that stability in Thailand has not been based on institutions, but on respect for the recently deceased monarch, which, if correct, may be an indication of difficulties to come.

  • Ferrara, Federico. The Political Development of Modern Thailand. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

    Argues that modern Thai political history can be seen as a series of political sequences. In some sequences, conflict between elite factions leads to “partial or full democratization,” followed by sequences of conservative reaction, led by an alliance of bureaucratic, military, and royalist elites. Progress is driven by economic change and consequent increased popular participation, and each time the conservative reaction must restore a more recent and less conservative sequence.

  • Journal of Asian Studies. 1941–.

    The journal of the Association of Asian Studies, JAS is multidisciplinary and covers all of Asia. In recent years it has included more work on politics, generally treating Thailand as a case study.

  • Journal of Contemporary Asia. 1970–.

    Edited for many years now by Thai politics specialist Kevin Hewison, the Journal of Contemporary Asia is a left-of-center journal that has paid close attention to politics in Thailand. It has frequently published special issues based on significant current events in Thailand.

  • Journal of East Asian Studies. 2001–.

    Edited by Stephen Haggard, the Journal of East Asian Studies covers both East and Southeast Asia, and includes all areas of politics. Publications on Thailand have primarily focused on domestic politics, with political parties a particular focus.

  • Pasuk Phongpaichit, and Chris Baker. Thailand: Economy and Politics. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University press, 2002.

    Argues that the absolutist state created during the 19th century largely survived the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in 1932, but increasingly came under challenge from new social forces beginning in the 1970s. That conflict remains central to Thai politics.

  • Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia.

    Currently edited by Michael Montesano, a scholar working on Thailand, Sojourn is a cross-disciplinary journal for Southeast Asia that prioritizes articles based on field research and a deep awareness of local cultures.

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