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THAI GOVERNMENTAL STRUCTURE
(Under Thailand's 1997 [B.E. 2540] Constitution)
The Role of the King:
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, under which form of government the King serves the People of Thailand as "HEAD OF STATE", under the terms of the Constitution of Thailand. (It should be noted that the Constitution provides that the successor to the King may be a Princess, and not necessarily a Prince, and therefore some translators use the word "Monarch" instead of the word "King" in translating this Constitution into English. The word "monarch" is a non-sexist term, which indicates a monarch may be either a man or a woman.) Thailand adopted a new Constitution in October of 1997, which is now in effect, although certain provisions of that Constitution will not take full effect until after new elections are held. (Those provisions are known as "Transitory Provisions", and some do not take effect for several years after its adoption, to give the parliament enough time to enact appropriate new laws.) Bills passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate become law upon approval of the bill by the King. The King has the power to approve or disapprove bills adopted by the Parliament; bills do not become effective as laws without the approval of the King, unless later re-approved by the Parliament. If the King disapproves a bill as a proposed law, the bill is returned to the Parliament to consider the King's objections. If the parliament nonetheless approves the law again, by at least a 2/3 vote of both houses of the parliament, the bill is returned to the King for reconsideration. If the King still declines to sign the bill into law, the Prime Minister is authorized to promulgate the bill as a law by publishing it in the Government Gazette, the official newspaper of the Government, as if the King had signed it.
The Executive Branch of Government:
The executive branch of the Government is headed up by the Prime Minister. It consists of the Prime Minister, the ministers of the various ministries, deputy ministers, and the permanent officials of the various ministries of the government. The Prime Minister is selected by the House of Representatives, with the President of the House of Representatives submitting a recommendation to the King for appointment. Usually the person recommended for appointment as Prime Minister is the leader of the political party having the largest number of elected Members of Parliament. Sometimes, however, a "coalition government" may be formed in which a number of political parties collectively representing a majority of the members of the House of Representatives. If such a coalition government is formed, the coalition may choose some other person as Prime Minister, and the President of the House of Representatives would then usually submit the name of the coalition's suggested Prime Minister to the King. The Prime
Minister must be a member of the House of Representatives. After the recommendation of the president of the House of Representatives is submitted to the King, the King appoints the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is the "Head of Government." He is responsible for the administration of all government agencies except the courts and the legislative bodies. The Prime Minister selects those persons, usually members of the House of Representatives, whom he wants named as Ministers or Deputy Ministers to head up the activities of each of the individual ministries of the government. When a coalition is formed of various political parties, each party traditionally seeks a representative proportion of ministerial and deputy ministerial appointees to be from that party's membership, as recommended by the head of that political party. Upon recommendation of the Prime Minister, the King appoints all Ministers and Deputy Ministers. Under the new constitution, the King will appoint the Prime Minister and up to 35 other ministers. At the present time, until new elections take place in 1998, 1999, or later, there are as many as 49 minister and deputy minister positions which may be filled.
After the first election under the new Constitution, The Prime Minister and all appointed ministers will surrender their position as a member of the House of Representatives or of the Senate upon accepting appointment as a minister or deputy minister.
The Prime Minister and the other ministers (ministers or deputy ministers) collectively make up a body known as the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers, sometimes called the "Cabinet", are in day to day control of the government and all of its activities, except those of the Parliament and those of the Courts. They set governmental policy and goals, and expect that the individual ministers and deputy ministers will carry out those policies and goals within their own designated ministries.
Ministers head up each department (ministry) of the government. Some ministries headed up by a Minister are:
Ministry of the Interior --police, local government agencies, immigration (but new legislation to be effective soon will place the police agencies as a separate body, The National Police, under the direct control of the Prime Minister, rather than in the Ministry of the Interior. That change has not yet taken effect.)
Ministry of Finance -financial affairs of the government, Banks, Finance Companies,
Including Thailand's so-called "Central Bank", the Bank of Thailand, which has its own governing board..
Ministry of Foreign Affairs --responsible for embassies and consulates, ambassadors, deals with foreign dignitaries representing foreign countries in Thailand
Ministry of Justice -- supervises appointment of judges, court administration. Presently seeking legislation to have the Attorney General Department and all prosecuting officials placed under the Ministry of Justice, rather than having them continue as an independent agency.
Ministry of Defense - Army, Navy, Air Force, Supreme Command
Ministry of Commerce -- dealing with businesses, exports, commercial matters
Ministry of Education -- primary and secondary schools, technical schools
Ministry of University Affairs - public and private universities
Ministry of Public Health - doctors, nurses, health clinics, hospitals
Ministry of Transportation and Communications - highways, local roads, communications, telephones, wire and wireless transmissions, mobile phones, pagers
Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment -- science, environmental protection, advanced technology and research
Ministry of Agriculture -- farms and farm products
Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare-regulation of wages, hours, employment conditions, supervises Social Security plan
The individual ministers head up their respective departments. They give policy direction to the permanent officials (the regular employees of the agency who are there on a permanent, long term basis, as part of the civil service); the permanent officials of the agency then give direction to the various supervisors and other leaders within their department, and they in turn supervise the employees who perform the actual "work" of the agency under their control. In addition, all ministers and deputy ministers sit as members of the Council of Ministries, which normally meets once a week to establish government policy on any and all issues arising needing governmental attention. The Council of Ministries has the power to submit urgent legislation to the King for immediate implementation by Royal Decree, to be followed by consideration by the Parliament within one year. Once such a proposal has been adopted by Royal Decree, it is the law of Thailand unless overturned by action of the Parliament. The Council of Ministers also prepares a budget for consideration by the Parliament, and approves and submits to the Parliament bills desired by the prime minister or by individual ministers or ministries affecting governmental policy and procedures.
The Legislative Branch of Government: (The Parliament, also called the National Assembly) The Legislative Branch of the government is the law-making arm of the government, charged with primary responsibility for adoption of laws to govern Thai society. The full legal name of the legislative branch of government is The National Assembly. The legislative branch of government (National Assembly) consists of the two legislative bodies, each with its own responsibilities. These bodies are the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The House of Representatives, which is also known as the "lower house of parliament", under the new constitution will consist of 400 members of parliament directly elected from single-member districts (constituencies) and 100 members selected from party lists with selection determined by the percentage of votes each of the major parties received in the elections. (Each voter -- a Thai citizen exercising his duty to vote in an election-- will cast one vote for an individual candidate for membership in the House of Representatives, and also one vote for the "party list" of the political party which the voter favors.) (When the Senate is to be elected, which will happen for the first time under the new Constitution, each voter will also have the opportunity to cast one vote for the person he wants to see named Senator from the Senatorial constituency in which the voter lives.)
The Senate, the "upper house of Parliament", under the new constitution, will consist of 200 members elected from Changwat (provincial) districts, but without any political party affiliation. In those changwats (provinces) where the number of residents entitles the changwat to more than one elected senator, (based on population), the voters within that changwat will choose the number of senators to be elected, but no voter may vote for more than one candidate for senator. Senators elected under the new Constitution will serve for a term of six years.
Senatorial elections will take place when the present term of four years for each Senator appointed under the previous constitution expires in the year 2000.
The Senate, under the new Constitution, has the duty to enact all of the required "organic laws" called for by the new Constitution if the National Assembly fails to enact those laws within the time limits specified. In such an event, the House of Representatives is disbanded (terminated), and the full law making authority then passes to the Senate to draft, pass and submit the organic bills meeting constitutional requirements to the King for approval. THIS APPEARS TO APPLY EVEN IF IT IS THE SENATE ITSELF WHICH IS DELAYING FINAL ADOPTION OF THE REQUIRED ORGANIC LAWS.
The House of Representatives is the first to consider most new legislation, proposed by the Cabinet or by a group of Members of Parliament. If the House approves a proposed bill, it is sent to the Senate for consideration. If the Senate approves the bill as submitted to it, and each house approves the bill on the third consideration by that house, the bill will be submitted to the Prime Minister for forwarding to the King for his approval. (Each bill must be considered on three separate occasions by both the House and Senate before being sent to the King for his approval.) If the Senate does not agree to the bill as proposed by the House of Representatives, it may amend the bill, and return the bill, as amended, to the House of Representatives for consideration. If the House does not agree with the amendment, the two bodies appoint a committee to try to resolve the differences. If this is not possible, the House of Representatives may enact the bill, without the Senate's amendments, after a lengthy period of time (six months or more) has passed. It is then submitted, through the Prime Minister, to the King, for his consideration.
The Judicial Branch of the Government: The Courts The judicial branch of the government consists of all the courts of Thailand. The courts are independent bodies, intended to serve as a "check and balance" on both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. The judiciary hears cases involving actual conflicts between individuals, between individuals and businesses, or between individuals or businesses and the government, and decides each case on its own merits. When a law applies to a case being considered, the court will apply the terms of the law, but if it feels the law may be contrary to the Constitution, it has the duty to refer the case to the Constitutional Court for a determination of whether there is such a conflict. Other than in cases of conflict with the Constitution, the courts apply the laws as enacted, and determine how the facts they find in hearing the evidence are affected by the laws. The courts also review executive actions of the government, how the executive branch carries out its functions, and can render judgments against the governmental bodies in appropriate cases.
The courts of Thailand basically consist of the trial courts (courts of the first instance), the appeal courts, and the Supreme Court (the Dika Court). In addition, a new Constitutional Court has been established to rule on the validity of laws, regulations and governmental decisions under the provisions of the new constitution. The court also considers the applicability of a law as applied, and whether it is applied in a manner consistent with the Constitution. Also, an Administrative Court is to be established, dealing with how the government administers the law and its policies.
The trial courts consist primarily of the district courts and provincial courts, plus the Central Courts (Central Criminal Court and Central Civil Court) situated in Bangkok. The military courts, labour courts, family and juvenile courts and the recently established International Trade and Intellectual Property Court are also courts of the first instance (trial courts).
Appeals courts are authorized to consider appeals from most trial courts, and the Supreme Court (Dika Court) considers cases appealed from the appeals courts as well as from other courts from which an appeal may be taken directly to it (such as Labour Court decisions) without having to first be considered by the Appeals Courts. Decisions of the Constitutional Court are not subject to review by the Supreme Court (Dika Court). For most other cases, the decision of the Supreme Court is the final authority on any controversy, and that decision, when announced, is not subject to further appeal or review.
The Constitutional Court has been established under the provisions of the new Constitution, Section 255 through Section 268. Under the provisions of Section 268, the decision of the Constitutional Court shall be deemed final and binding on the National Assembly, Council of Ministers, Courts and other State organizations. This makes it clear that there is no appeal from the decisions of the Constitutional Court, and its rules are absolutely final. They must be adhered to by the National Assembly (which includes both the House of Representatives and the Senate), and on the Council of Ministers, which includes the ministers of each and every ministry established under Thai law, on the Courts, including all other Courts, and on other State organizations. The scope of the Constitutional Courts powers is very broad. Section 262 of the Constitution provides that any bill or law which is being considered or has been adopted by the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court decides on the legality of the act, and of all provisions of the act. The court has the power to decide whether the bill or law complies with or is in any way contrary to the Constitution, and has the power to declare the law void, or to declare any part of the law void and unenforceable.
The Constitutional Court also has power to review the application of any pertinent law involved in any case before any court. The Constitutional Court can invoke its jurisdiction either by reference by the court before which the case is pending, or by objection by any party involved in that lawsuit claiming that the provisions of the law are inconsistent with the Constitution. Upon such an objection, the court in which the case is pending must stay (delay) the action and refer it to the Constitutional Court.
Balance of Powers:
Each of the three branches of government has a degree of control over the actions of the other branches of government.
The Executive Branch carries out most government activities, and establishes governmental policy. It also proposes most laws to be considered by the Legislative Branch, and proposes the annual governmental budget.
The legislative branch can approve, amend or reject proposed bills, and it gives thorough review to the budget submitted to it, and can make changes to the budget within limitation specified in the Constitution.
The Courts have a degree of control over legislation approved by the Parliament, in interpreting the law and, as to the Constitutional Court, in determining whether the law is consistent with the new constitution. Any law found to be inconsistent with the Constitution by the Constitutional Court is rendered ineffective, and cannot be followed. The Courts also review governmental actions, and can require changes or reconsideration in appropriate cases, such as environmental reviews.
The Executive Branch, through the power of preparing the budget, has a degree of control over the functions of the courts, and how many employees the courts may have, etc. The legislative branch also has a direct say in the budget process. The executive branch also has control over legislation passed by the Parliament, in that all bills must be submitted to the King through the Prime Minister, and if the Prime Minister is opposed to a particular bill, he can express those feelings to the King, who may refuse to approve it in the form in which it is submitted to him.
The power of each separate branch of government to in some way or other affect the others' actions is known as the system of "checks and balances." Each branch has at least some authority to place limits upon the actions of the other.