JOURNAL ARTICLE: The Polarization of Thai Democracy: The Asian Democracy Index in Thailand

Publication date: 1 December 2014

Publication: Asian Democracy Review

Author:  Naruemon Thabchumpon (Director, CSDS), Jakkrit Sangkhamanee, Carl Middleton (International Researcher, CSDS), and Weera Wongsatjachock.

Download this article from the Asian Democracy Review journal website here.


In recent years, explanation of Thailand’s democratization has been subject to intense debate. Some political experts say that Thai politics is monopolized by a few groups of political elites (see for example Thitinan 2014). Others have argued that various politically influential movements exist in Thailand, including those that support elections and that oppose corruption. In this paper, we argue that Thai democracy is no longer a game of elites, but that to a certain but significant extent laypeople have become involved in different spheres to assert their political, economic, and social influence or, through the lens of Cho (2012), acted to de-monopolize power. 

However, this does not mean that Thailand has become a consolidated democracy characterized by the process of pluralization. Rather, the influential small groups that still hold power within Thai society have tried to maintain and strengthen their political regime by excluding the majority from actively getting involved in the democratization process, especially those from rural areas. This has created a series of country-wide conflicts that characterizes the present situation of Thai society. 

This binary opposition between the urban elites and middle class people on the one hand and the rural majority on the other has led the country’s democratic transformation into a situation that we describe as polarization. Our Asian Democracy Index (ADI) survey data indicates that within this polarization, there still remain well-established and exclusive political and economic groupings that manage to maintain power within Thai society. At the same time, there are also movements of people that have struggled to shape the political, economic, and social transformations and withstand the old regime of powers in different ways. 

To elaborate our argument based on our survey of key experts, our paper is divided into four parts. In the next section, we provide a brief background of Thai democracy with a focus on the period from September 2013 to January 2014, which is the period during which our survey took place. We then discuss our research method and assessment, and mention some of the difficulties we encountered during the conduct of our survey. The third section of this paper presents the findings of the survey, organized according to the fields of politics, economy, and civil society. In the final section, we provide some reflexive conclusions and recommendations for the development of Thai democratization through the lens of de-monopolization.