When Thailand’s royalist-military junta appointed a panel to draft the new Thai constitution following the September 2006 coup, the idea was to ‘firewall’ the document from any changes the regime’s enemies might try to impose in the future.One of these firewalls was Article 291, which lays down regulations designed to stymie such attempts.

The Pheu Thai government of Yingluck Shinawatra, following its overwhelming election victory in 2011, is now proposing to reform Article 291 in preparation for major changes to the constitution, or perhaps even the redrafting of a new constitution altogether.The 2007 constitution was designed by its royalist drafters principally to limit the power of executive government, which threatened the control of the royalist establishment over Thailand’s political system.

The success of Thaksin Shinawatra’s first party, Thai Rak Thai, was due in part to its skill in exploiting the opportunities created by the 1997 constitution — which ironically had been designed to enhance the power and efficiency of the executive and bring an end to the fractious, ever-changing coalitions which had inhibited effective government.

The 1997 constitution worked ‘too well’ in the eyes of the royalist establishment. It led to what critics of Thaksin’s electoral popularity would characterise as a ‘dictatorship of the parliament’ or the ‘Thaksin regime’. Since he was identified as a threat every effort was made to destroy Thaksin as a political phenomenon, but his electoral base remained loyal

Author: Patrick Jory, UQ

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Thailand’s constitutional reform in changing times

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