If a military dictatorship is defined by a military leader or junta that comes to power following a coup and then offers the masses elections that cannot alter them being in power, then Thailand is currently the benchmark for this governmental system.
And this itself is no mean feat when your neighbours are the basket case that is Myanmar. Yet away from the prying eyes, or sanctions of the west, the Kingdom of Smiles remains one of the last military dictatorships in the world.
The 17 constitutions of Thailand
Yet while the current situation within the Kingdom is unpleasant, it is sadly for the long suffering Thai people the norm. Since the founding of modern Thailand in 1932 the country has had 17 different constitutions, with most of them coming after the military had taken over from a “failing” government.
In reality what a failing government has meant though, was one that could threaten the power of the military, something it has since inextricably linked to its relationship with the monarchy.
The military thus can justify each and every coup simply by saying it stating in the interests of the King and country.
The Royal family and the military are one
And this is one element where outsiders truly do not understand Thailand, or rather western propagandists have perpetuated a myth about the country. It is constantly said that Thais “love the King” hence the strict rules about speaking out against him, known as lese-majeste (link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A8se-majest%C3%A9).
This has seen people imprisoned for talking about the King’s dog and most recently it being ruled that talking out against the royals was akin to trying to “overthrow the state” – although said perpetrators were at least spared jail.
What most do not realise though is that said love of the royals was actually a constructed concept and a weapon of the Cold War. To fight the fact that almost every country around it was falling like a domino to communism – not to mention the strength of the Thai Communist Party, the powers that be needed a rallying call.
They did this by creating an almost mythical cult of personality worshipping of the Royal Family, something that continues even after the fall of the wall.
The circus of 2014-2019
The latest Thai coup occurred almost 10 years ago when the military did not like the party in power, something which sounds like a gross over simplification, but sadly is not.
For five years the country was then a full on functioning military junta-type government , which while it was not exactly gunning people down in the streets, still put up with little to no dissent.
Due to pressure from without rather than within elections were held in 2019, but instead of being free and fair the military took a leaf right out of the Myanmar playbook and set up a constitution that enshrined their continued role in government.
So, why is Thailand a military dictatorship in 2023?
Quite simply because it can be and because so long as there is a veneer of democracy the West will leave it in peace. This was epitomised in the 2023 elections which were won by the democratic left-wing and populist Move Forward Party.
Sadly winning an election is not enough in Thailand though, with the House of Representatives deciding the Prime Minister in tandem with the Senate. Alas, there are no elections for the Senate – all 250 Senators are appointed by the Royal Thai Military.
Therefore whilst the current Prime Minister of Thailand Srettha Thavisin is officially “anti-establishment” in actuality he works hand in glove as part of a coalition of elitists that includes the military in its fight against any real or significant changes within the country.
So, when the US harps on about democracy in Ukraine for example, remember it only cares about the issue when it suits its own narrative.