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May 5, 2008

Wikipedia: Democrat Party (Thailand)

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Democrat Party
Phak Prachathipat
Image:Democrat Party logo.png
Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva
Spokesperson Ong-art Klampaiboon
Founded 1945
political position
Internationalaffiliation Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, Liberal International
Official color(s) Green, blue

The Democrat Party (Thai: พรรคประชาธิปัตย์ Phak Prachathipat) is Thailand’s oldest existing political party and, up until the 2006 Thailand coup, was the largest opposition party. The Party upholds a royalist and conservative ideology, although after leader Abhisit Vejjajiva became party leader, it embraced many populist policies proved to be popular by the Thai Rak Thai party. The current party’s support bases concentrate on middle- and upper-class population in Bangkok and voters in Southern Thailand.

The Democrat Party was originally established in 1945 as a royalist party in opposition to parties affiliated with Pridi Phanomyong. Democrat Party founder Khuang Aphaiwong was briefly appointed as figurehead civilian Premier during the dictatorship of Marshal Plaek Phibulsongkram, but was the Opposition for much of the 1952-1957 period. The party lay dormant during the dictatorships of Sarit Dhanarajata and Thanom Kittikachorn (1957-1968). It was again the Opposition from 1968 to 1971, when Thanom overthrew his own government. Led by Seni Pramoj, it briefly led an unstable coalition Government in 1975, and then again in 1976, during the 6 October 1976 massacre. During the Prem Tinsulanonda era (1980-1988), the party was the Opposition.

Led by Chuan Leekpai, the Party led unstable coalition governments twice in the 1990s, from 1992-1995 and 1997-2001. It was the Opposition during the rule of Thaksin Shinawatra during 2001-2006. The Party’s current leader is Abhisit Vejjajiva.

The party is a member of the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats, an alliance of democratic and liberal parties from throughout the region.



Founding of the Party

The Democrat Party was founded in 1945 as a conservative, monarchist party by Khuang Aphaiwong. It was originally established to contest the January 1946 prohibition. Initial members included royalists opposed to Pridi Phanomyong and former Seri Thai members. The Party competed against various parties affiliated with Pridi and the Progress Party of brothers Seni and Kukrit Pramoj and other hard-line royalists. In the election, Pridi’s bloc won a majority in the Parliament; the Demorats came in second. However, Pridi declined a nomination as Prime Minister and the Parliament instead appointed Khuang as Premier. Khuang resigned in March 1946 after being defeated on a minor bill, and was replaced by Pridi. The Progress Party, including the Pramoj brothers, later merged with the Democrat Party.

“Pridi Killed the King”

After the death of King Ananda Mahidol in 1946, the Democrat Party accused Pridi of being the mastermind behind the King’s death and spread this propaganda throughout the capital.[1] Seni Pramoj’s wife told the US chargé d’affaires that Pridi had the King assassinated.[2] A few days after the King’s death, a Democrat MP yelled out, “Pridi killed the King!” in the middle of a crowded theater. [3]

November 1947 coup and the 1949 Constitution

By the time of the House election of August 1946, the Democrat Party was enlarged by royalists like Prince Upalisarn Jubala, Srivisarn Vacha, Sridhamadibes, Borirak Vejjakarn, and Srisena Sombatsiri. Except for Prince Upalisarn Jubala, all of these figures would become Privy Councilors to the new King, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Parties affiliated with Pridi continued to win a majority of seats in the House. Pridi was appointed Premier, but later conceded to Luang Thamrong Navasavat. A military coup led by Marshal Plaek Phibulsongkram later overthrew the Thamrong government.

The palace persuaded Marshal Plaek to appoint Khuang Aphaiwong as figurehead civilian Prime Minister.[4] In subsequent elections in 29 January 1948, the Democrats won the majority for the first time, and reappointed Khuang as Premier. Khuang packed his cabinet with palace allies, much to the consternation of the military. The military later, claiming that they were supporters of constitutional monarchy, demanded that Khuang resign. Marshal Plaek replaced Khuang as Prime Minister.

Although having no place in the Premiership, the Democrats had key representatives in the constitution drafting committee. Headed by Seni Pramoj and dominated by royalists under the direction of Prince Rangsit and Prince Dhani, the 1949 Constitution elevated the throne to its most powerful position since the 1932 overthrow of the absolute monarchy.[5] Among its features was a Senate appointed directly by the King. The Constitution provoked an uproar among much of the public. It was attacked as contrary to the spirit of the 1932 revolution. Critics were branded republicans and communists.[6]

Subsequent elections saw military-affiliated parties winning the majority in the House; however the Senate was still dominated by Democrats and other royalists. As Marshal Plaek was still Premier, tensions between the military and the Democrat/palace-alliance steadily increased. On 29 November 1951, the military and the police seized power, just as King Bhumibol’s vessel was returning to Thai waters. Although the military’s 1952 constitution, which was essentially the 1932 Constitution, called for elections, the Democrats had been practically barred from government for the following 23 years.

The era of no elections

Sarit Dhanarajata seized power from Marshal Plaek in 1957. Unlike Marshal Plaek, Sarit deified the throne, thus removing any advantage that the Democrats, who had previously been dominated by royalists, may have had. The junta did not immediately abrogate the 1952 Constitution, but instead appointed Pote Sarasin as figurehead civilian Premier. Elections were held on 15 December 1957, resulting in the Democrats losing out to military dominated parties. Sarit’s ally General Thanom Kittikachorn was appointed as Premier. Sarit later went to the US to seek treatment on his liver cirrhosis. Eight months later, he returned healthy and executed another coup, dissolving Parliament, abrogating the Constitution, and ruling by Revolutionary Council. For the next 9 years, there were no elections in Thailand, and the Democrat Party had laid dormant.

The era of the Three Tyrants

Thanom Kittikachorn, who had succeeded Sarit after his death, was pressured to promulgate a democratic constitution in 20 June 1968 and hold elections in February 1969. Parties affiliated with Thanom won that election, and the Democrats joined the opposition. Thanom, his son Narong, and his brother-in-law Praphas Charusathien became known as the Three Tyrants. They later executed a coup against their own government in 17 November 1971, abrogating the Constitution and running the Kingdom through a National Executive Council. Facing rising tension, they drafted a new charter in December 1972, which established a wholly-appointed 299-member National Legislative Assembly.

The short flowering of democracy

Opposition to the Three Tyrants exploded on 13 October 1973, when 400,000 protested at the Democracy Monument. A violent crackdown and intervention by the King led to the appointment of Privy Councilor Sanya Dhammasakdi as Premier. The Three Tyrants left the Kingdom. Sanya established a constitution drafting committee, consisting of Kukrit Pramoj (who by this time had established the Social Action Party) and many academics. The new constitution was promulgated in 7 October 1974.

Legislative elections were held in January 1975, resulting in none of the 22 parties coming close to winning a majority. The Democrats, led by Seni Pramoj, formed a coalition government in February 1974. Seni was appointed Premier, but the unstable coalition was highly unstable, and was replaced in less than amonth by a Social Action Party-led coalition which appointed Kukrit Pramoj as Premier.

Seni Pramoj and the 6 October 1976 Massacre

The Kingdom descended into political chaos, with anti-leftist elements growing increasingly violent. In January 1976, the military pressured Kukrit to dissolve Parliament. Elections were scheduled on 14 April. The months leading up to the election were extremely violent.[7] Seni Pramoj’s Democrats won the most seats in the election, and formed a highly unstable coalition government.

Seni’s government came under great pressure. A bill to extend elections to local levels was passed by Parliament 149-19, but the King refused to sign the bill or return it to Parliament, effectively vetoing it.[8] As anti-leftist hysteria escalated, Praphas Charusathien returned shortly from exile to meet the King. Protesting students were attacked by Red Gaur paramilitary units. On 19 September 1976 Thanom returned from exile and was immediately ordained as a monk at Wat Bovornives. Massive protests erupted. The King and Queen returned from a trip to the South to visit monk Thanom, leading Seni to resign from the Premiership in protest. His resignation was refused by Parliament, but initial attempts to reshuffle his Cabinet were blocked by the King.[9] The political tension finally exploded in the 6 October 1976 massacre, when Village Scouts and Red Gaur joined with military and police to rape and massacre at least 46 students protesting at Thammasat University.[10] That evening, the military seized power and installed hard-line royalist Tanin Kraivixien as Premier.

The military coup was clearly endorsed by the King, who declared that it was “a manefestation of what the people clearly wanted.”[11] The new constitution had no Cabinet or elections and gave the Premier near absolute powers.

The modern Democrat Party

The Democrat Party evolved into an outspoken opponent of military involvement in Thai politics and was one of the major oppositional forces during Thailand’s turbulent years, often in power for a short period after the coup and before the subsequent episode of military dictatorship takes over. A key member of the “People Power” movement in 1992, the Democrat Party under Chuan Leekpai led coalition governments from 1992 to 1995 and again from 1997 to 2001.

Election results in the South, 1975-2005

Election results in the South, 1975-2005

The party’s base was traditionally concentrated in Bangkok, where the party could rely on support from the capital’s middle and upper classes. However, during the 1990s, under the leadership of Chuan Leekpai, a native of Trang province in Southern Thailand, the Democrats became the dominant party in the southern region. The influx of provincial politicians from the south into the party created considerable tension with the party’s Bangkok establishment. But since Chuan’s “Mr. Clean” image made him personally popular with Democrat supporters in the capital, the party managed to stay united under his leadership. The Party, however, moved back to the opposition in 2001 after the sudden rise of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai party, winning only 128 seats compared to the TRT’s 248 in the 2001 general election.

In 2003, Chuan retired as party leader. Banyat Bantadtan, a southerner and a close aide to Chuan, succeeded him after a closely-fought leadership contest with Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Democrat Party 2005 election poster highlighting the

Democrat Party 2005 election poster highlighting the “201” campaign

Although the party’s candidate in the 2004 Bangkok gubernatorial election, Apirak Kosayothin, won a landslide victory, the party lost further ground to the Thai Rak Thai in the 2005 general election. During the election, the Democrats developed a populist agenda, promising more jobs, free education and health care, and combating crime and corruption. However, the party refused to give details of their policies.[12] They also aimed to gain 201 seats, enough to launch a vote of no confidence debate against the Premier. However, they lost the elections by a considerable margin, winning only 96 out of 500 seats and only 18.3% of the popular vote. Results of the election prompted party leader Banyat Bantadtan to resign. On March 6, 2005, Abhisit Vejjajiva was elected the new party leader. Upon succeeding the party’s leadership from Banyat, Abhisit noted, “It will take a long time to revive the party because we need to look four years ahead and consider how to stay in the hearts of the people.”

Election Boycott

In February 2006, Thaksin Shinawatra declared a house dissolution after months of mass protests and called for general elections in April. The Democrat Party joined hands with two other main opposition parties to boycott the elections, claiming that the call for elections was unjustifiable, that Thaksin’s attempt to call for the elections only served to divert public attention from the sales of Shin Corp, and that Thaksin had not liven up to his pledge to undertake political reform after the elections. These elections of April 2006 were later declared invalid. On May 30, 2007 the Constitutional Court dismissed the claims of electional fraud in these elections, which if declared valid would have led to the dissolution of the party.[13]

New challenges

The emergence of the the TRT Party into Thai politics in 2001 and its downfall in 2007 have presented new challenges to the Thai political horizon and to the Democrat Party itself in particular. The TRT has brought into the scene the populist policy with its focuses on providing cheap health care, village-managed microcredit development funds, government-sponsored One Tambon One Product program, among others. The populist policy earned the TRT enormous popularity from rural population never before experienced in the Thai political history.

Following the Coup d’état in 2006 and the Thai Rak Thai Party’s dissolution in 2007, the Democrat Party was faced with a new challenge: How can the Party expand its support bases into the North and North-Eastern constituencies once considered to be the TRT’s political turfs? Although himself being banned from politics for five years, Thaksin Shinawatra still enjoys popularity from his former support bases and attempted to maintain his active role in Thai politics by sponsoring the newly formed People’s Power Party, which had become a new gathering of the former TRT members.

Abhisit had but to embrace populist policy as the Democrat Party’s platform in the 2007 General Elections. He claimed that while his platform was categorically considered to be the populist policy, it sought to lower living costs while maintaining fiscal responsibility; to inherit the village-managed microcredit development funds from the previous government but do it as part of promoting self-sufficiency economy in rural areas; and to strengthen the country’s competitiveness in the long run through free education. However, the Democrats’ platform was poorly received in the North and North-Eastern constituencies. Although the Party was able to gain more than 160 seats, a record unprecedented in the Party’s history, they were not enough to lead a coalition government. Again, the Democrats was pushed back to serve as the sole opposition party.

As the opposition leader, Abhisit took initiative in forming shadow cabinet, the first of its kind in the Thai political history. The formation of shadow cabinet was aimed to secure attention in the media space and to draw contrasts and distinctions with regard to public policy that would help future voters understand where the Party stands.

Party Leader

  • Abhisit Vejjajiva

Party Secretary General

  • Suthep Thaugsuban

Party Spokesperson

  • Ong-art Klampaiboon

See also

  • Khuang Aphaiwong
  • Seni Pramoj
  • Kukrit Pramoj
  • List of political parties in Thailand

See also

  • Liberalism
  • Contributions to liberal theory
  • Liberalism worldwide
  • List of liberal parties
  • Liberal democracy
  • Liberalism in Thailand
This text comes from Wikipedia. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikipedia.

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