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Evolving toward what? Parties, factions, and coalition behavior in Thailand today.

How important have Thai parties and intraparty factions been in Thailand's fast-evolving democracy? What role do they play today, especially since the enactment of the latest constitution? What has accounted for the fragmentation in Thailand's party systems and coalitions? How did Thai democracy allow for the rise to power of Thaksin Shinawatra? This article analyzes these questions, presents a theory of Thai coalition behavior, and offers some predictions for Thailand's democratic future.

KEYWORDS: cabinet, coalition, democracy, faction, fragmentation, party, political, system, Thailand, Thaksin


In theory, political parties have played essential roles in democratic regimes--aggregating interests, mobilizing social support, and giving popular legitimacy to ruling elites. Standing at the nexus between constituents and policymakers, they have been indispensable democratic institutions. Yet the effectiveness of parties in evolving democracies has often been quite dubious. Thai democracy has been a case in point. How did the burgeoning Thai democracy and evolving political party system allow for the advent of Thaksin? Moreover, given that Thailand's sixth general election in thirteen years was held only recently (February 2005), it is pertinent to ask what role party and intraparty structures have played under the country's fledgling democratic regime. In this article, using Riker's Size Principle, I argue that institutional constraints (or lack thereof) and intraparty turmoil have contributed to the fragmentation of Thailand's political party system. Further, using Tsebelis's notion of nested games, I develop a three-level bargaining framework to understand certain features of coalition behavior, including how parties and factions have contributed to the fragmentation of coalitions. This framework is applied to three Thai governments. Finally, I show how institutional changes have been essential in diminishing both factionalism and party fragmentation--though Thailand's 1997 constitutional reforms may have inadvertently hindered Thai democracy itself.

The enactment of a strengthened constitution and the 2001 election of a billionaire (Thaksin Shinawatra) have been significant events in Thailand's democratic evolution. The multiple political parties and factions once able to humble prime ministers and their governments have failed to obstruct Thaksin's quest to monopolize power. Never before has a democratically elected Thai politician achieved such a measure of control. At one level, the prime minister (PM) owes his continued hold on power to his highly centralized Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, the domination of TRT factions, and the lack of any relevant opposition party. Yet the underlying reasons for this control have been an unprecedented state of affairs: significant constitutional changes and generous investment of financial resources by a politically savvy billionaire PM.

The February 2005 election reaffirmed Thaksin's overwhelming hold on power. With an individual so firmly entrenched in the office of prime minister, it is fitting to analyze how he got there in the first place. Several factors contributed to Thaksin's 2001 electoral landslide and first single-party parliamentary majority, including (1) a preelection willingness to spend lavish sums of money to both market his Thai Rak Thai Party and buy up members of parliament (MPs), footloose factions, and vote canvassers; (2) a new electoral system of single-member districts favoring parties with more cash; (3) the rival Democrat Party's PM Chuan Leekpai's perceived inability to stand up to foreign interests or cope with the 1997 Asian financial crisis; (4) Thaksin's use of nationalist rhetoric and promises to implement populist projects; (5) the popular view that Thaksin (once seen as only self-interested) would nevertheless, as a self-made billionaire strongman, successfully rescue Thailand from the economic abyss. Yet since 2001, the new PM has fortified his position to the point where fears echo that Thailand is slipping under a parliamentary tyranny akin to the Italy of PM Silvio Berlusconi. Ultimately, though parties in Thailand were once weak and fragmented, they are today overridden by one dominant political leader.

The Nature of Thai Parties and the Party System

Since 1979, as Thailand moved toward democracy, political parties (as relevant tools in any representative democracy) have evolved toward becoming significant political players. Yet, for the most part, Thai parties have been mere legal shells that political power groups--factions--have switched into and out of with great regularity, looking for the best material deal (e.g., "expense" payments and cabinet portfolios). (1) Thai parties and the party system have had unique attributes that have influenced the stability of Thai governments.

One such attribute has been the overabundance of political parties. To date, the only authors to calculate Thailand's effective number of parties have been Robert Albritton, Napisa Waitoolkiat, and Allen Hicken. (2) From 1979 to 2001, there often were as many as sixteen political parties running in an election, and the effective number of parliamentary political parties hovered around 6.0 (see Table 1). (3) This fragmented multiparty system ranks very high among parliamentary democracies around the world. Indeed, among eleven Asian democracies, Aurel Croissant found Thailand to have the highest effective number of parties (see Table 2). (4) The multitude of parties (until 2001) contributed to coalition instability.

Meanwhile, Thai parties have shared similar attributes, including party volatility, lack of party discipline, party regionalism, and "cadre"-esque qualities such as decentralization, factionalism, and shallow roots.

Tables 1 and 3 show that a multiplicity of fragmented faction-ridden parties has existed throughout the evolution of Thailand's democracy. With such weaknesses, Thai parties remain significant in many ways. First, they act as legitimate parliamentary players. Second, parties are key vehicles within which factions operate. Third, parties assume greater importance than factions during national crises. For example, in the September 1992 election, the electorate was faced with two stark alternatives: vote for those parties that had supported the Thai military, or vote for those parties considered by many to be more "democratic" in nature. This was the choice between "devil" parties and "angel" parties. Moreover, Thai parties have traditionally influenced coalition durability to the extent that they are the aggregators of the factions within them. The 1997 constitution has greatly enhanced the capabilities of parties, making them effective coalitional players in their own right and clearly increasing their power vis-a-vis factions (see below).

Why Factions Matter in Thai Politics

Besides parties, intraparty factions are also important units in Thai politics. (5) In Thailand, individuals for the most part enter politics to obtain executive, legislative, or party executive positions, which thereby enables them to attain, maintain, and increase power; recoup election losses; enrich themselves; and expand their political bases. To achieve these goals, politicians group into factions. Factions can be defined as the temporary grouping together of politicians and their support groups both within and apart from an overarching party structure. Factions offer financial and informational resources that can help partisans at election time (including vote-canvassing networks). Factions also recruit political candidates and have been essential to the durability and enlargement of Thai parties.

The predominant materialistic drive among Thai politicians has resulted in a dearth of ideology in Thai politics, and this self-interest is clearly reflected in factions. In many cases, the faction leader is also an influential party phuyai (leader) serving as ME In other cases, faction leaders are influential principals outside the political system who engage in reciprocal relationships of interest with their agents in parliament. While some faction leaders are themselves regional "big shots" with enormous personal wealth and connections, many still rely on the support of provincial jao pho (godfathers) in order to sustain their party status, strengthen their electoral machine, and secure ample financing. (6)

Given the material dependency of faction members on their leader and the opportunities to shop for factional affiliations elsewhere, Thai factions tend to be rather fluid. When a leader dies or retires, as in the case of Montree Phongpanit of Social Action in 1999, factions tend to collapse. Factions also sometimes merge into larger factions as when the Group of 16 joined with Narong Wongwan's Therd Thai in 1996.

Thai political factions are ubiquitous. While the effective number of parliamentary parties in the lower house has hovered around six from 1979 to 2001, the corresponding effective number of parliamentary factions for that period has been 21.17. In a weakly cohering party system such as Thailand's, these multiple players are important indeed.

Beyond party politics, factions take center stage in coalition negotiations and the allocation of portfolios, often determining the very longevity of coalitions and cabinets. Factions have contributed to the fall of at least five out of the last eleven Thai governments. (7) Intraparty conflicts interfere in interparty politics in several ways. First, factions bitterly compete for cabinet seats, sometimes precipitating reshuffles; second, factions get involved in choices of coalition partners; third, factions affect the level of a party's commitment to a ruling coalition; fourth, factions influence the hammering out of coalition (and quota share) agreements; fifth, factions affect the timing of coalition formation; sixth, factions influence whether a party will follow the coalition consensus; and, seventh, factions can determine whether a party will remain in or bow out of ruling coalitions/cabinets. (8)

Understanding the Fragmentation of Party Systems and Coalitions

While factional turmoil and institutional constraints have been key to understanding the fragmentation of Thai party systems, institutionally constrained (rational choice) nested games have been essential to comprehending the fragmentation of coalitions. To address these dual instabilities, I divide the analysis into two cuts--looking separately at party systems and coalitions.

First Cut--Explaining Party System Fragmentation

Both institutional constraints (constitutions or political party legislation) and intraparty turmoil are essential to understanding how the number of parties expanded or deflated in Thailand from 1975 to 2001. Institutions have made themselves felt through the force of law. Acting within the confines of Thailand's parliamentary system, political parties are required to abide by constitutional requirements. These conditions directly influence parties. On the other hand, intraparty turmoil (through the force of factions) has generally occurred due to the lack of effectively cohering party structures or by-laws, the lack of enough cabinet positions to satisfy every faction leader (since every faction leader anticipates a cabinet slot as a victory spoil), and an overabundance of party MPs (the more MPs, the more needs must be satisfied). To understand how this works, let us examine Riker's Size Principle. (9)

Riker's Size Principle posits that the most durable coalition governments are those that are minimum winning, that is, possess sufficient parties to ensure a parliamentary majority but not any unnecessary surplus parties. An excess of parties in a majority coalition would allow for changes in coalitional composition without fear of coalitional collapse. However, given that the number of cabinet posts is fixed, a larger number of coalition partners means fewer portfolios to allocate among more parties. Thus, minimum-winning coalitions, barely large enough to stay in power and the most profitable for their members, tend to be the longest lasting. Though this principle was formulated to explain coalition durability, it can also be applied to the intraparty level. Political parties tend to have a maximum threshold of seats after which they break apart. This is because the primary goal of parties is to secure the greatest number of ministerial posts. At some point in the game, not all factions can be satisfied. The result is the breakup of the party. In Thailand, the plateau is between eighty and ninety. In a 2002 interview, a member of Thailand's Privy Council informed me that Chart Pattana Party leader Korn Dabbaransi had confided in him the following: "Once you have more than 80 MPs in your party, your party is sure to be destroyed because over time you cannot reward over 80 people." (10) This does not mean, of course, that smaller parties cannot break apart. Where a party leadership power vacuum occurs, parties, despite their size, have a tendency to disintegrate. Parties sitting in the opposition are especially prone to internal turmoil since their factions are unable to benefit from sitting in the government.

Historical evidence exists that institutions and factional strife have affected the number of parties. According to the constitution of 1974, MPs could not run as or reside in parliament as independents. However, there was no minimum threshold on the number of party candidates running. What effect did these requirements have on the number of political parties in Thailand? In the 1975 election, 10.3 effective number of political parties (including numerous microparties) gained seats in the lower house. A large collection of tiny parties eventually formed the coalition. When a reshuffle forced the coalition to accept a new party, the Social Agrarian Party, which was suffering from intense factional strife, the latter hesitated on whether to join. Ultimately, this factional dissension led to dissolution.

The multitude of parties lessened the chances of faction leaders to acquire choice cabinet positions or other material concessions. This led to factional shifts and the concentrating of factions/MPs into four political parties during the run-up to the 1976 election. As a result, following the 1976 election, seven political parties (fewer than in the previous election) were elected. The 1974 system, allowing for numerous small parties, certainly contributed to parliamentary pandemonium and was one factor that indirectly provided the military with an excuse to stage a coup d'etat on October 6, 1976.

The constitution of 1978 somewhat stabilized political parties; required that MPs be party members; obliged parties to field at least 50 percent of the candidates for the election to all parliamentary seats available; and encouraged the enlargement of political parties. However, the military pressured the enactment of certain "interim clauses" that allowed MPs to run as independents and switch parties at will. These clauses also permitted parties to have as few candidates as they wanted. In fact, parties during the 1979 election were only quasi-legal. The result of the 1979 election was as follows: 8.07 effective number of political parties; 63 independents. (11) This high number of weakly cohering political parties and the numerous independent MPs escalated parliamentary chaos while strengthening the military.

Not until the 1981 Political Party Act did parties finally start to regain their political footing. With the act's passage, the provisions of the 1978 constitution relating to political parties were finally implemented. The act also provided that at least 5,000 party members had to come from at least five provinces in each of Thailand's four regions, and that MPs not obeying party directives might be dismissed from their parties, terminating their status as MPs. Yet the law was unclear as to whether these MPs could then switch to other parties within a given number of days. (12)

The 1981 act's intent was to increase the size of parties (following the 1983 election) while decreasing the quantity of parties. This goal was initially successful. With independent MPs gone, parties now became more important actors within Thailand's emerging democracy. Once-small parties now grouped themselves together into larger parties. Yet despite the growth in power of parties, they remained very decentralized in terms of party finance and candidate recruitment. In other words, parties were the legitimate players, but power continued to reside in informal parliamentary groupings, i.e., intraparty factions. If dissatisfied, these cliques, following dissolutions, could leave their parties and either merge into other parties or form their own.

Thus, in Thailand, factions remained essential parliamentary building blocks--perhaps more so than parties. The decentralized nature of Thai parties ensured that they would not be able to threaten the much more united and concentrated Thai military. Yet parties were still able to affect elected Thai governments. In April 1983, only three days before the expiration of the 1978 constitution's "interim" clauses, the lower house was dissolved and elections were held a month later. The effect of the interim clauses on the 1983 election was the following: 5.6 effective number of parties; 26 independents. When, a few weeks later, the 1978 constitution took effect, independent MPs were forced to join parties and small parties to merge into larger ones. The result was that the effective number of parliamentary parties diminished from 5.6 to 3.9.

The jumble of incoming MPs/factions into larger parties also increased the size of a few major parties. It pushed the number of MPs in the Social Action Party (SAP) to 101 and the number of MPs in the Chart Thai Party (CHP) to 108. From 1983 to the next election (1986), the number of SAP MPs diminished from 108 to 43, while the number of CHP MPs shrank from 108 to 63. Many of the defecting MPs in these parties, grouped into factions, started their own parties. As a result, the effective number of parties in the 1986 election was 8.0.

Following the 1986 election, the Democrats won 100 seats. The factional strife that soon beset the party resulted in a huge split. The defection cost the Democrats over 50 seats in the next election as the party garnered only 48 seats. The defection of factions from the Democrat Party increased the effective number of parties in the 1988 election to 9.8.

After the 1988 election, the dominant Chart Thai Party eventually acquired 96 MPs. Once again, it was difficult to satisfy all of the factions in such a large party and defections ultimately occurred. In the March 1992 election, the Chart Thai Party had been reduced to 74 seats. The military-sponsored Samakkhitham Party attempted to buy up as many MPs as possible (77). Moreover, in 1990, four parties merged to form the Ekkapap Party, possessing at first 71 seats, then 62. As a result, the effective number of parties in March 1992 shrank to 6.7.

The political parties participating in the March and September 1992 elections were smaller in size than during the 1980s. As a result, with no party approaching 90 members, it was more difficult for splits to occur. The effective number of political parties was thus 6.6 and 6.8 respectively. The party winning the 1995 election, Chart Thai, won 92 seats in the general election. Like the earlier Chart Thai government, this number approached the 80-90 MP plateau. When the government came to power, factional infighting was almost immediate. The Chart Thai government fell in 1996 amid intraparty bickering and dissension. However, unlike in previous elections, the factions did not then split and form new parties. Instead, many factions joined Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's New Aspiration Party or the Democrat Party. The result was that Chavalit's New Aspiration Party (NAP) won 125 seats. The 1996 election also saw the Democrat Party receive 123 seats. The NAP, like any 80+ party, eventually suffered splits, especially following the downturn in the economy. By the time of the 2001 election, New Aspiration garnered only 36 of a possible 500 seats (eight party list MPs). Ultimately, the instances where an "over 80" number of party seats led to factional squabbling and defection are the following: the 1976 election (Democrat Party--114 seats), the 1983 election (Chart Thai--108 seats, Social Action--101 seats), the 1986 election (Democrat Party--100 seats), 1988 election and subsequent merger (Chart Thai--96 seats), the 1995 election (Chart Thai--94 seats), 1996 election (New Aspiration--125 seats).

The 1997 constitution ushered in an immense centralization of (dominant) party control, which became applicable following the 2001 election. The rules disrupted the historical pattern of "over 80" party seats and led to factional squabbling and ultimate party splits--for the ruling party. Following the 2001 general election, Thai Rak Thai captured 248 out of 500 seats while the Democrats won 128 seats. The Democrat Party experienced severe factionalism, which eventually resulted in the defection by several MPs to form the Mahachon Party (2004). However, the much larger Thai Rak Thai Party, though experiencing factionalism, never suffered defection. It avoided the effects of Riker's Size Principle. Billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra's popular populism, as well as his seemingly endless supply of financial resources, helped to guarantee the survival of the Thai Rak Thai-led coalition. Yet the underlying reason for TRT's survival was the support of institutions, which undergirded the dominance of the ruling party. According to Section 107 of the 1997 constitution, MPs must be members of political parties for a consecutive period of not fewer than ninety days prior to applying for candidacy in an election. Meanwhile, elections must be held within forty-five days after the dissolution of the lower house of parliament (Section 115). Since party switching is supposed to occur between dissolution and election, this provision may reduce such activity since prime ministers could hold snap elections, which legally would not give factions enough time if they wanted to switch to run under a different party banner. In this way, prime ministers could keep freebooting factions from migrating out of their party, thus making splits from the ruling party virtually impossible. From 2001 to 2005, TRT actually grew in size, and in the 2005 general election, it captured an even larger number of seats (377 out of 500). Meanwhile, though party defection was no longer an option and Riker's Size Principle no longer applied, TRT remained imbued with factional dissension.

Second Cut--Understanding Coalition Fragmentation

Political systems can create enticements (e.g., cabinet posts) that induce power-maximizing political behavior. No different in Thailand, this facilitates conjecture about Thailand's political parties, factions, and coalitions. To understand multitiered intricacies of Thai coalition behavior, it is necessary to focus on the network of games (parliamentary bargaining, cooperation, and conflict situations) that Tsebelis calls "nested games," which often occur simultaneously at different levels of the parliamentary system. (13) While one might think that the only game in town is that between the "lead" party in the ruling coalition and the "lead" party in the opposition, there are also games being played between parties in the ruling coalition, between factions in the same party, and, on the most microlevel, between individual MPs themselves, who may decide to switch parties or factions. For the purposes of this article, the individual MP level is left out. This leaves three arenas in which veto player bargaining occurs: that among "lead" parties in the two competing coalitions (government and opposition), that among parties in the ruling coalition, and that among intraparty factions. Parties and factions are thus the units of analysis. (14)

Every parliamentary unit (parties, factions) possesses certain resources (e.g., the number of legislative votes/seats) and has rational objectives (payoffs). The units pursue strategies (involving a series of moves) for using the resources to achieve the objectives. Strategies involve negotiations with other actors, who can constitute a constraint. While successful strategies can lead to payoffs, the level of payoff is shaped by constraints and penalties.

Political parties and factions seek both to enter cabinets and obtain the most important portfolios possible within the cabinet, given party resources. The benefits party members reap by securing a cabinet position include, but are not limited to, prestige; the power to enact policies favorable to their parties or factions; the extraction of rent for financial enrichment (e.g., kickbacks); the generation of cash flows to cover election costs and to reimburse campaign financiers; and the building of close ties with important officials or business leaders.

Parliamentary units do, of course, face a number of institutional constraints or behavior-bounding factors. First, parties must follow both direct and indirect "rules of the parliamentary game": for parties, constitutional organic law (e.g., law on political parties); for factions, bylaws matter as well (e.g., some parties forbid open criticism of the party leader by party members). Second, "events of overriding seriousness" may threaten the very existence of units competing within the parliamentary game. Third, competing units are constrained by the lack of information certainty during the coalitional bargaining process. (15) Fourth, factions can be constrained by parties in the same coalition that oppose them, while small parties can be constrained by large factions in the dominant coalition party that oppose them. An example of this was the conflict between the Therd Thai faction of Banharn Silpa-archa's Chart Thai Party and Palang Dharma, which was a member of Banham's coalition.

Focusing specifically on the intraparty level, factions are built around leader-follower ties based mostly on personalism or sometimes kinship. Yet such ties are also rational relationships. The payoff for factions include patronage--receiving financial payoffs and/or, especially, obtaining cabinet posts, because possessing a portfolio means faction empowerment relative to other factions. The strategy for factions is to combine their resource potential, knowledge of party rules, and estimations of other factions' advantages, disadvantages, and motivations in order to interest-maximize the given faction's moves.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to balance payoffs and penalties among units so as to maintain coalitional stability. Conflicts can lead to instability, which constrains the ability of units to perform in coalitions that can ultimately lead to cabinet reshuffles or dissolutions.

In the final analysis, bargaining between rational actors has occurred at three bargaining levels: competition between "lead" parties in opposing coalitions, interparty competition, and intraparty conflicts between factions. Prior to 2001, the factional level, in influencing the host party, could also affect the interparty environment. During that time, the fragmented (multiparty) and factionalized nature of Thai political parties accounted for the high number of potentially viable ruling coalitions. The high number of feasible coalition options increased coalitional bargaining constraints in terms of forming and maintaining ruling coalitions/ cabinets. This frenzy of nested games has been occurring not only in the dominant ruling party but also within coalition partner parties. Coalition bargaining has been protracted and agreements have been difficult to achieve. The result has been coalitional fragmentation.

Since 2001, the intraparty level of bargaining within the Thai Rak Thai Party has become the most important arena in Thai parliamentary politics. Indeed, the 1997 constitutional reforms modified the parliamentary arena, strengthening parties at the expense of factions. With factions unable to defect or even threaten such action, there occurred an empowering of party leaderships. Factions now found it more difficult to threaten the stability of dominant ruling parties or governments, given the heightened powers of prime ministers. Yet in the post--2001 order, ruling party factions could still demand scraps of pork or exert influence over policy by pressuring the government through certain parliamentary procedures.

Three cases--the administrations of Banharn (1995-1996), Chavalit (1996-1997), and Thaksin (2001-2002)--illustrate the nested character of conflict occurring primarily at the factional level, but also at the party and coalitional levels. The cases show how such conflict has influenced Thai governments. They represent some of the most recent and best documented cases of factionalism in Thai parliamentary politics. The first two cases were chosen as a demonstration of fragmentation under the pre-1997 constitutional system. The third represents parliamentary conflict under the post--1997 system. In this third case, despite factional turmoil within the TRT, institutions have nevertheless prevented the government from falling, though factions have succeeded in reallocating pork and postings. In all three cases, parties and factions were armed with strategies and resources to achieve payoffs. Meanwhile their behavior was shaped by institutional constraints.

Factional squabbles under Banharn Silpa-archa (1995-1996). The Banharn administration exemplifies the case of party fragmentation and party system fragmentation that contributed to the coalition's fall. Banharn's government was initially made up of seven parties. The lead party Chart Thai (Thai Nation) was itself a myriad of eight factions interwoven together haphazardly. (16) These factions proved to be at least as difficult to placate as the very parties that formed the coalition.

Within the Banharn ruling coalition, both parties and factions competed for power. Not surprisingly, factions did matter and intraparty strife was all too common. One crisis that quickly developed arose when coalition member PDP (Palang Dharma [Power and Justice] Party) abstained from supporting Suchart Tancharoen, deputy interior minister and a leader of the Therd Thai faction during a no-confidence vote. This followed the Bangkok Bank of Commerce (BBC) scandal in May 1996. Suchart consequently lost his seat. Newin Chichob, deputy finance minister, and three other cabinet members (all of whom were also members of the Therd Thai faction) were also forced to resign in disgrace. When five PDP cabinet members, including Thaksin Shinawatra, thereupon resigned en masse, Banharn reappointed them all (to improve the image of his government), while Suchart and Newin "were left out in the cold." (17) From that point on, the Chart Thai factions of Therd Thai (Thai Liberal) and Wang Nam Yen (Cold Water Basin), as well as three coalition parties, wanted the PDP ousted from the coalition. Therd Thai also sought revenge against Banharn's favoring of the PDP. Though Banharn did bring back two of the sacked Therd Thai ministers in a subsequent reshuffle, Therd Thai set its sights on a bigger prize: the coveted interior portfolio that Banharn held along with the premiership.

Indeed, various competing factions launched a tug-of-war for Interior. First, Therd Thai faction leader Narong Wongwan, head of the strongest faction at the time with close to forty members, was contesting the portfolio. Then there was Sanoh Thienthong, leader of the Wang Nam Yen faction, who claimed the right to the post since he was the Chart Thai secretary-general, and approximately forty MPs. Meanwhile, Vatana Asavahame, leader of the Paknam (River's Mouth) faction, also claimed Interior, as he expected compensation for helping Chart Thai win the 1995 election by convincing politicians to switch from other parties and join Chart Thai before the election. Ultimately, Prime Minister Banharn, who controlled the Suphanburi faction, was able to use a divide-and-rule strategy to thwart all the factions' efforts to unseat him at Interior. He persuaded members from Therd Thai and Wang Nam Yen to join his own or other factions. He also sought to "tame" Therd Thai by pushing ahead with investigations into the BBC scandal, in which Therd Thai members had been involved. The result of this was that Therd Thai and Paknam both threw their support behind party bigwig Pramarn Adireksan for interior minister to unseat Banharn and derail Sanoh's bid for power. (18) Though eventually Banharn survived a no-confidence vote in August 1996, his party was so marred by that time by dissension and conflict that it was only a matter of time before he would be forced to resign. Ultimately, on September 21, threatened by imminent defection not only by three coalition parties but also by the powerful factions of Therd Thai, Wang Nam Yen, and Paknam (who were on the verge of throwing their support to either the Kwam Wang Mai Party's Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, the Chart Pattana Party's Chatchai Choonhavan, or Montree Pongpanich's Social Action Party), Banharn announced his resignation. (19) The intermingling of interparty and intraparty strife collapsed the government.

Factional squabbles under Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (1996-1997). Chavalit's government differed little from Banharn's in terms of composition. It too was a hydra of competing parties and factions. Chavalit's coalition was initially composed of six parties, with ten factions in the dominant New Aspiration Party. (20) Chavalit quickly became the arbiter of disagreements between factions over both party executive posts and cabinet portfolio positions. Satisfying all factions equally proved an onerous task, as some factions were left out in the initial allocation while others strove to switch to portfolios that might provide greater rent havens. While Chavalit acted as PM, party leader, and head of the rump party faction, his secretary-general and interior minister was Snoh Thientong, who had joined Chavalit after recently bailing out on Banham. As leader of Wang Nam Yen, the largest party faction in Kwam Wang Mai with forty-nine members, Snoh's group was allocated a quota of seven portfolio positions. Other powerful factions were likewise rewarded. Weaker factions, however, were at least initially left out in the cold. Six months into Chavalit's administration, "many of the factions whose members harbor[ed] great expectations but who failed to win a cabinet seat when the government was formed [were] now pushing for a reshuffle so their members [would be] given a portfolio or so they [could] extract some concession from the ministers they [were targeting] for replacement." (21) The factions under the PM's office minister, Chingchai Mongkoltham of Tawan Mai (New Sun); Paijit Srivorakarn (of Pra Pal); and Kiatchai deputy interior minister Chaichaowarat led forty-one MPs to sign a petition demanding that New Aspiration "review" certain ministers' performance. A major target was Sukhavich Rangsitpol, another major faction boss and education minister at the time.

Chingchai, a former deputy education minister, and Sukhavich had competed for the loyalty of MPs and teachers (who acted as vote canvassers), but another clash involved the awarding of contracts to build a multibillion-baht sports complex as well as the construction of living quarters for athletes in Rangsit and Petchburi. This dispute was particularly prickly since, as education minister, Sukhavich controlled the Physical Education Department, while Chingchai was responsible for the Sports Authority of Thailand. (22) Sukhavich was meanwhile on the verge of censure in parliament for school computer purchases possibly linked to corruption.

Eventually, on August 15, 1997, PM and party leader Chavalit replaced Sukhavich with Chingchai, figuring that the latter, a popular figure from Kalasin province, was a better election asset in the northeast for the New Aspiration Party. At the same time, Chavalit also replaced Kiatchai (who too had been under the corruption spotlight), demoting him to become a PM's office minister. A frustrated Kiatchai quickly turned on his erstwhile ally Chingchai, signing a letter with Sukhavich and twenty-nine other MPs, asking Chavalit to review the appointment of Chingchai. In the following reshuffle, Sukhavich, impossible to be ignored given his large factional following, was reinstated into the cabinet as a deputy PM. (23) Kiatchai, however, was dropped from the line-up to make way for a more powerful factional representative in this last reshuffle of Chavalit. Chingchai, heading the powerful Tawan Mai faction, continued on as education minister. In a later October 24, 1997, reshuffle, the premier dropped Kiatchai from the line-up to make way for another Wang Nam Yen ME An MP from the Ia-sakul faction also got a cabinet seat, and Tawan Mai's Chingchai Mongkoltham continued on as education minister, while yet another Tawan Mai faction member got a cabinet position.

The reshuffle enraged some NAP factions, who approached other parties about switching allegiances (e.g., Kiatchai Chaichaowarat's group). The Wadah and Kaew Buasuwan factions as well as other coalition parties were also disappointed. Thai Citizens' Party considered leaving the coalition, as did the powerful Chart Pattana Party. With partisan displeasure growing and financial crisis enveloping Thailand, Chavalit agreed to resign (though not dissolve the lower house) on November 6, 1997. The Chavalit case shines light on intraparty competition over pork. The case of Chavalit, like that of Banharn, also illustrates how multiple, factionalized parties, grouped into a coalition, can contribute to governmental breakdown.

Factional squabbles under Thaksin Shinawatra (2001-). Never before in Thailand's electoral history have institutions constrained factionalism as under Thaksin. The 2001 general election was the first held under the auspices of the 1997 constitution, which, among other things, forced MPs to resign before becoming cabinet ministers; allowed for only thirty-six cabinet ministers; and required MPs to be registered with a party for at least ninety days prior to an election (however, prime ministers could hold snap elections at least forty-five days prior to an election or refuse to renominate an incumbent within that period). (24) Ultimately, the 1997 reforms helped to strengthen and centralize Thai political parties while diminishing (but not destroying) the power of the often footloose factions.

The reforms seemed truly heaven-sent for Thaksin Shinawatra. They guaranteed party stability and discipline for TRT. Thaksin would not have to worry about potential party switchers--he could save some of his financial resources. Indeed, factions and MPs, having swarmed into TRT, now found it quite difficult to depart the party given the ninety-day rule. (25) The 2001 elections gave Thaksin's TRT a total of 249 of the total 500 parliamentary seats, and not long afterward, the Seritham Party and the Kwam Wang Mai Party merged with TRT (bringing the party to a 303 MP total). The ruling coalition was composed of TRT and the much smaller Chart Thai (along with the diminutive Chart Pattana from 2002 to 2003). Only the Democrats and tiny Rassadom remained outside the government. There has been no party capable of confronting Thai Rak Thai, whose overwhelming parliamentary numbers and readily available funds can simply not be matched. Meanwhile Thaksin has encouraged mergers by smaller parties into TRT as well as migrations by individual MPs or factions into TRT. MPs have been enticed by financial incentives and the possibility of attaining a political post. The opposition Democrat Party remains somewhat unpopular for its handling of the economic crisis and has begun to splinter. With the dominance of TRT over Thailand's political party system, real competition has shifted to TRT's interfactional arena.

A principal method by which Thaksin aggregated power was to push mergers with all political parties except the Democrats. This move drastically reduced the number of parties opposed to TRT. It meant fewer competing parties for Thaksin to worry about. Indeed, Thaksin only had to offer incentives to lure parties into TRT. Once merged, the new TRT members were trapped by the ninety-day rule, and Thaksin had less need to use incentives. Still, the inclusion of new parties produced more and more Thai Rak Thai factions. The traditional interparty arena of Thai parliamentary politics had now shifted to the TRT intraparty arena. Thaksin quickly became a master juggler of factional interests. Moreover, the greater number of factions offset the attempts by any one faction to push Thaksin from the helm of Thai Rak Thai.

Thaksin's overriding financial and executive control over TRT meant that factions could hardly demand choice cabinet or executive party posts. Indeed, the new constitution itself only allowed for a vastly reduced thirty-six cabinet ministers. Hence, TRT's factions rationally set their sights on a more attainable set of goals. Where before these groups paid special attention to key party and cabinet posts, they now focused on obtaining committee head posts, gaining a share of deputy party leadership positions, securing other party or legislative postings, or ensuring themselves an attractive cut of the budget.

Among TRT's fifteen factions, two have been dominant. The first, called Wang Bua Ban (Lotus Blossom Group), centered on the prime minister's sister, MP Yaowapha Wongsawat (as well as Thaksin himself). (26) A second faction, Wang Nam Yen (Cold Water Group), was led by Thai party veteran Sanoh Tienthong. Though an intraparty equilibrium was attempted, tension began to mount between these groupings almost from the beginning. Sanoh's group, particularly miffed at the prime minister's seemingly cavalier attitude, implied that he was paying the faction inadequate attention. On November 17, 2001, a quorum in the house was not reached, causing the immediate termination of the meeting. The vast majority of the truant MPs belonged to Wang Nam Yen. (27) With the merger of the New Aspiration Party into Thai Rak Thai in January 2002, Wang Nam Yen's bargaining power began to diminish. The merger coincided with the annual TRT general meeting. There the Wang Nam Yen faction saw its presence on the executive board decline while that of Wang Bua Ban (and other factions) grew. By March 2002, Wang Nam Yen was once again seething. This time, a Wang Nam Yen member went to the press with evidence of impropriety in the distribution of the tourism fund, the allocation of which was decided by Somsak Thepsutin, one of Wang Bua Ban's key leaders and deputy prime minister. Wang Nam Yen alleged that Somsak was distributing funds only to constituencies represented either by himself or TRT faction members close to him. Both the house and senate committees soon began to probe Somsak's dealings. (28) Despite the criticism from Wang Nam Yen, Prime Minister Thaksin sent strong messages of support for Somsak. (29) Ultimately, through a mixture of pressure, mediation, and cajolery, Thaksin forced the Somsak corruption issue to fade away.

On October 3, 2002, the prime minister reshuffled his cabinet. Thaksin appointed Uraiwan Thientong, wife of Wang Nam Yen head Sanoh Thientong, to a cabinet portfolio while discarding another Wang Nam Yen cabinet minister. The grouping was allocated only two other cabinet posts. This was clearly "small potatoes" for the second largest TRT faction. Claiming that it was continuing to be treated "unfairly," Wang Nam Yen threatened to help the opposition dig up corruption scandals against Thai Rak Thai. (30) The group also threatened to introduce a constitutional amendment that would remove the ninety-day party-switching rule.

By late November 2002, rumors had spread that Wang Nam Yen was lobbying senators to support an amendment to the constitution to either remove or reduce the ninety-day rule. Since changing the constitution requires only a bare majority of parliament, such a move seemed theoretically possible. But the arithmetic was against Wang Nam Yen. Unless the grouping could win support from other Thai Rak Thai factions, a majority of senators, and the other political parties, Thaksin's sheer weight of numbers--in terms of MPs supporting him--was likely to prevent the passage of any constitutional amendment. (31) Ultimately, though the incident underlined to Thaksin the agitation of the Wang Nam Yen faction, the move failed. Rules and numbers clearly favored Thaksin.

Meanwhile, in late 2002, Wang Bua Ban began an offensive designed to centralize its dominance within the legislature. The former pressed for a midterm reshuffle of house committee chair positions. Wang Nam Yen responded that this was a ploy designed to replace Wang Nam Yen house chairs with those from Wang Bua Ban. Eventually, in late November, with most TRT factions (other than Wang Bua Ban) and all other political parties opposing the initiative (as well as TRT house speaker Uthai Pimchaichon), Thaksin's government backed down on its proposed house committee system "reform." (32) This event was a rare occurrence: lack of numbers had compelled Thaksin to eat humble pie.

Still, by 2003, Wang Nam Yen had become even more vulnerable. Growing numbers of its MPs had migrated to other TRT factions. A November 2003 cabinet shuffle reduced the number of Wang Nam Yen ministers from three to two. In March 2004, the sole minister from TRT's Wadah faction had been discarded. Ultimately, in 2004, Thaksin seems to have achieved complete control over each Thai Rak Thai faction.

Under Thaksin (as opposed to the cases of Banharn and Chavalit), there has been greater continuity and coherence in the ruling coalition. TRT factions have been unable to switch to other parties. Outright defection has been close to impossible. Rather, factional strife has primarily revolved around obtaining a share of TRT executive party board posts, perhaps a few cabinets posts, and cabinet support personnel positions. Factional quarrels have also involved disputes over government contracts and budget allocations. (33) Still, since the election of Thaksin, factions have no longer possessed the same level of political power that they once had. No longer can they make and break governments. Factions now resort to indirect means of challenging the prime minister: dragging their heels on parliamentary business, leaking information to the press, grouping together to oppose Wang Bua Ban. But regarding the principal-agent relationship, where the party leader in Thailand has typically assumed the role of "agent" to the party's factions ("principals"), the roles have completely switched. Thaksin today is the principal; his factions are the agents. If any agent fails to serve the principal's interests, even the threat of discipline can be an effective stimulant.

Toward the Future

By late 2004, politicians, factions, and parties clearly saw general elections on the horizon. Thaksin Shinawatra continued to harness political groupings and attach them to his party, Thai Rak Thai. While Chart Thai's party |eader refused to merge his party into Thai Rak Thai, rumors swirled that several Chart Thai MPs, including the Buriram faction of Newin Chidchob, were poised to defect to Thaksin's party. (34) At the end of 2003, Chart Pattana Party's (lesser faction leader) Korn Dabbaronsi moved to Thai Rak Thai. In September 2004, Chart Pattana finally took the plunge and officially merged into Thai Rak Thai. Throughout, Thaksin's philosophy became increasingly clear: expand the party through mergers or absorption of other parties' factions. Meanwhile, a group of Democrat MPs split off to form their own party--Mahachon Party.

In the February 6, 2005, general election, Thaksin won a parliamentary landslide. TRT captured 377 seats, the Democrats took 96 seats, Chart Thai obtained 25 seats, and Mahachon took 2 seats.

The election guaranteed a deepening of TRT's hegemonic control over parliament. (35) Thaksin's enormous wealth and the 1997 reforms (which make it especially difficult for MPs to switch out of the PM's political party) have been key to replacing Thailand's fluid and fragmented pre-2001 multiparty system with a system where one party (Thai Rak Thai) is increasingly dominating politics. Constitutional reforms and a moneyed CEO prime minister reversed this pandemonium. Yet where once party and factional fragmentation dominated Thailand's parliament and threatened policy cohesion, in 2004 Thaksin himself was becoming the focus of worry and fear. As the head of the indomitable Thai Rak Thai, no party could obstruct his objectives. Within TRT, factions remained well-heeled, thanks to the ninety-day rule. With his growing power, Thaksin, as Super-CEO, has managed to extend his political and economic empire.

Throughout Thailand's electoral history, intraparty factional and institutional constraints have influenced the fragmentation of the country's party system and coalitions. Such fragmentation has meant political instability. The ascendance of Thaksin certainly represents the replay of a traditional Thai phenomenon--the rise to power of a problem-solving strongman. Yet Thailand has clearly experienced a profound transformation, shifting as it has from an emerging multiparty democracy to a system revolving around a single democratically elected individual--Thaksin. The PM has skillfully relied on his wealth as a resource to draw MPs into TRT, to lessen infighting, to tame the opposition, and to dominate his megaparty (by paying politicians off) while simultaneously utilizing the 1997 institutional reforms to keep his megaparty together and also prevent any challenges from parliament. This conjunction of overwhelming resources and institutional changes (that have strengthened party leaderships) has fundamentally altered Thailand's traditional conundrum of party instability and coalitional fragmentation. It remains too early to tell how long and far the shadow of Thaksin will fall on Thailand. Yet today the prime minister remains in firm control of his dominant majority party and the parliament. Though a major goal of the 1997 reforms was to consolidate the party system and weaken factions, it is ironic that this effect produced such a change as to "overconsolidate" the party system, contributing to the centralization of political power in a single, forceful leader. It is further ironic that Thailand's factions and a multiplicity of parties--the very entities targeted by the 1997 constitution--could have most ably done the job of democratically ousting Thaksin from power.


I want to thank Daniel Unger and Stephan Haggard for their assistance and advice.

(1.) For works on Thai parties, see Kramol Tongdhamachart, Towards a Political Party Theory in Thai Perspective (Singapore: Maruzen Asia, 1982); Duncan McCargo, "Thailand's Political Parties: Real, Authentic, and Actual." In Kevin Hewison, ed., Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation (London: Routledge, 1997); Anusorn Limmannee, "Thailand." In Wolfgang Sachsenroder and Ulrike E. Frings, eds., Political Party Systems and Democratic Development in East and Southeast Asia (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate [Friedrich Naumann Foundation], 1998).

(2.) Robert Albritton contends that the number of political parties had lessened across elections in the 1980s and 1990s. See Albritton, "Political Parties and Elections in Thailand in an Era of Globalization: No Longer a Semi-Democracy," paper presented at the meeting of the International Thai Studies Association, Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1996. Napisa Waitoolkiat calculates the effective number of political parties in Thai elections (from 1983 to 1992). She looks at whether Duverger's Law can be applied to Thailand and finds that there have been between 5.4 and 6.13 effective political parties in Thailand from 1983 to 1992 (in terms of seat shares), demonstrating the fragmented multiparty nature of Thailand's party system. See Waitoolkiat, "The Impact of the New 1997 Electoral Laws on Thai Politics," paper presented at the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs, Michigan State University, October, 1999. Allen D. Hicken measures the effective number of parties (1979-2001), finding that there are vast differences between Thailand's effective number of parties at the national level and the effective number of parties at the provincial level. See Hicken, "From Pitsanuloke to Parliament: Multiple Parties in Pre-1997 Thailand. In Michael Nelson, ed., Thailand's New Politics: KPI Yearbook 2001 (Bangkok: King Prajadhipok's Institute and White Lotus Press, 2002).

(3.) This measure is useful when we want to count the number of parties/factions and they are not of equal size. The number of seat shares that each party (or faction) has is squared and then all are added together. This results in the Hirschman-Herfindahl (HH) concentration index. The HH provides a useful index from 0.0 to 1.0. This index can show different concentrations across cabinets. The greater the concentration, the higher the number. The inverse of the HH concentration index is the effective number of parties or factions. Rein Taagepera and Matthew Shugart, Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral System (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 77-81.

(4.) Aurel Croissant, "Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia: A Comparative Perspective." In Aurel Croissant, ed., Electoral Politics in Southeast and East Asia (Singapore: Friedrich Ebert, 2002), p. 334.

(5.) For works on Thai factions, see the following: James Ockey, "Change and Continuity in the Thai Political Party System," Asian Survey 43, no. 4 (July-August 2003): 663-680; Paul Chambers, "Mung Lek Nai Mung Yai: How Factions Matter in Contemporary Thai Politics," Journal of Social Science 32, no. 2 (September-December 2001): 192-230; Nirujana Khamnurakhasa, A Study of Factions Within the Thai Political Party System (master's thesis [in Thai], National Institute of Development Administration, 2000); Boontham Lertsukekasem, Factionalism in the Social Action, Democrat, and Chart Thai Parties (Ph.D. diss. [in Thai], Chulalongkorn University, 1988); James Ockey, "Political Parties, Factions, and Corruption in Thailand," Modern Asian Studies 28, no. 2 (1994): 251-277; Piyasak Sutranan, An Academic Analysis of Political Party Members Playing a Role in Intra-Party Factions (master's thesis [in Thai], Thammasat University, 1991).

(6.) See Sombat Chantornvong, "Local Godfathers in Thai Politics." In Ruth McVey, ed., Money and Power in Provincial Thailand (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2000), p. 69.

(7.) Paul Chambers, Factions, Parties, Coalition Change, and Cabinet Durability in Thailand: 1979-2001 (Ph.D. diss., Northern Illinois University, 2003).

(8.) Moshe Maor, Parties. Conflicts. and Coalitions in Western Europe: Organizing Determinants of Coalitional Bargaining (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 1; James Ockey, "Political Parties, Factions, and Corruption in Thailand," Modern Asian Studies 28, 2 (1994): 251-277.

(9.) William Riker, The Theory of Political Coalitions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962). James Ockey intriguingly contends that Thaksin Shinawatra, whose Thai Rak Thai won a majority in the 2001 election, refused to create a minimum winning coalition and instead formed a grand coalition, which diminished the chances of any one faction getting too big a piece of the pie and upsetting the coalition. Indeed, Thaksin has become the Thai Rak Thai factions' ultimate patron. See Ockey, "Change and Continuity in the Thai Political Party System," pp. 670-671.

(10.) Interview with a former Thai cabinet minister and prominent political figure, April 18, 2002.

(11.) Author's own calculations.

(12.) Niyom Rathamarit, Militals Governments in Thailand: Their Policies Toward Political Parties, 1977-83 (Ph.D. diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1984), pp. 147-152.

(13.) See George Tsebelis, Nested Games: Rational Choice in Comparative Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

(14.) For some elaboration on veto-player theory, see George Tsebelis, "Decision-making in Political Systems: Veto Players in Presidentialism, Parliamentarlism, Multicameralism, and Multipartyism," British Journal of Political Science 25 (1995): 289-325.

(15.) Lawrence C. Dodd, Coalitions in Parliamentary Government (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 38.

(16.) "Factional Divisions Within the Chart Thai Party" (in Thai), Tansabdahuajan, August 9-15, 1995, p. 23.

(17.) "Banham Works Hard for Survival," Bangkok Post, June 2, 1996, p. 1.

(18.) Somchai Meesane, "Will the Law of Gravity Claim PM Its Victim?" Bangkok Post, July 12, 1996, available at

(19.) Somchai Meesane and Susanpoolthong, Bangkok Post, September 22, 1996, p. 1; Suvit Swasdi, Bangkok Post, October 6, 1996, p. 1; "Banharn Agrees to Resign," Bangkok Post, September 22, 1996, available at http://www Chart Thai's factional games are explored further in "The Aspirations of Nine Chart Thai Groups" (in Thai), Prachachat, October 30, 1996, p. 33.

(20.) "Groups Within the New Aspiration Party," The Nation, October 30, 1997, p.1A.

(21.) Wut Nontharit, "Fighting for a Cabinet Seat." Bangkok Post, July 5, 1997, available at

(22.) Nontharit, "Fighting for a Cabinet Seat."

(23.) "Sanoh Dangles Promises to Appease Sukhavich Faction," Bangkok Post, August 19, 1997, available at

(24.) Thai constitution, 1997.

(25.) According to Ockey, "Change and Continuity," the 1997 economic crisis played a major role in attracting impoverished factions and MPs into Thai Rak Thai before the 2001 general election. Yet economic crisis alone does not explain the continued sucking of factions into Thai Rak Thai today despite Thailand's improved economy. Nor does economic crisis explain the swarming of factions into parties occurring similarly in previous elections (e.g., 1986, March 1992, and 1996). Clearly the expectation of material gains as well as the anticipation of impending institutional constraints impelled Thai factions to look for the best deal in terms of a party host. These factors first and foremost prompted Thai factions and MPs to join Thai Rak Thai prior to 2001.

(26.) Sukanya Lira, "Right-Hand Woman: Little Sister Makes Her Mark," The Nation, July 8, 2001, p. 3A. Also see "Special Article: Considering Small and Big Nets in the Thai Rak Thai Party--Shades of Splits," Matichon, July 9, 2001, pp. 10-11; Rangsan Tanapornpan, Handbook of Thai Politics (in Thai) (Bangkok: Kobfai Publishing, 2001).

(27.) "Thaksin Sets 'Harsh Rules' for Truant MPs," The Nation, November 17, 2001, available at; "Show of Disunity in Thai Rak Thai Party," The Nation, November 17, 2001, p. 4A.

(28.) It certainly did not help Somsak (or Thaksin) that the House Committee on Tourism was chaired by Songsak Tongsri, a Wang Nam Yen faction member. "Somsak Faces Censure," The Nation, March 14, 2002, p. 1A. Also see "Wang Nam Yen Reveals that Minister Used Up B6 Billion" (in Thai), Thai Post, March 7, 2002, pp. 1, 12.

(29.) Thaksin increased Somsak's duties, giving him control of Thailand's Board of Investment and Public Relations department. Moreover, Thaksin reportedly threatened Wang Nam Yen at a party meeting: "If any of you do not want to remain with the party, just tell me so that I don't have to file you in the next election." This threat speaks to the 1997 constitutional requirement that MPs must remain members of their parties for at least ninety days prior to an election. Otherwise they forfeit their MP status. "Talking Point: The Twilight of the Wang Nam Yen Faction," The Nation, March 16, 2002, available at

(30.) "Wang Nam Yen Threatens to Break with Government," The Nation, November 15, 2002, available at; "Cabinet Reshuffle--New Line-up Draws Flak from Within Ruling Party," Bangkok Post, October 4, 2002, available at

(31.)"90-Day Membership Rule: Charter Coup Brewing," The Nation, November 26, 2002, available at; "Constitutional Coup: Numbers Are Against the Plotters," The Nation, November 27, 2002, available at

(32.) See "Thai Rak Thai Factions Tussle," The Nation, October 27, 2002, available at; "House Panels: Meeting to Allocate Positions," The Nation, October 28, 2002, available at http://www; "House Committee Reform Strongly Opposed," The Nation, November 26, 2002, available at; "House Committees: Executive Branch Told to Back Off," The Nation, November 30, 2002, available at

(33.) In August 2002, both Wang Nam Yen and Wang Bua Ban accused Thailand's Highways Department director-general of contract bid-rigging. The official was appointed by then Transport and Communications minister Wan Muhamad Noor Natha, a member of Thai Rak Thai's Wadah faction. Wang Nam Yen and Wang Bua Ban were particularly piqued at the bureaucrat because he apparently refused to promote these factions' supporters in a reshuffle of highway officials. Ultimately, Thaksin removed Wan Noor himself from his portfolio in the 2002 cabinet reshuffle. "Party Power Play: Snoh and Wan Noor in Battle," The Nation, August 17, 2002, available at http:]]www

On September 5, 2003, intraparty conflict openly erupted in the lower house's Budget Committee when members of the Wang Nam Yen faction alleged that Wang Bua Ban faction members were illegally channeling budget allocations to their own constituencies (and, more seriously, hoarding funds at the expense of members of Wang Nam Yen). However, the public airing of the allegations and threats to have 120 senators (minimum necessary) refer the matter to the Constitutional Court forced Wang Bua Ban members to agree to a more even distribution of budgetary resources. See "Budget Debate: Ruling Party Faction Promised More Funds," The Nation, September 6, 2003, p. 1A.

(34.) "Chart Thai to Meet Amid Defection Talk," Bangkok Post, June 14, 2003, p. 3.

(35.) Election Commission of Thailand, "Thailand's 500 Members of Parliament," available at

Paul Chambers is a lecturer in comparative politics and international relations in the Department of Political Science, University of Oklahoma. Previously, he was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and Fulbright researcher in Thailand. He is particularly interested in democratization and regionalism in Southeast Asia. He has written various articles on Thai political parties, factions, elections, and foreign policy.
Table 1 Effective Number of Parties
in Thailand Across Nine Elections

 Effective No. Effective No.
 of Electoral of Parliamentary
Election Year Parties (by votes) Parties (by seats)

1979 11.6 8.07
1983 (before merger) 6.62 5.6
1983 (after merger) -- 3.9
1986 8.0 6.1
1988 9.8 7.8
March 1992 6.75 5.9
September 1992 6.63 6.1
1995 6.86 6.18
1996 4.6 4.33
2001 (a) 4.03 3.03
Average 8.5 6.0

Notes: The numbers in this table are based on the calculations
of Napisa Waitoolkiat and Paul Chambers. Allen Hicken found
that the effective number of parties at the constituency
level was lower than that at the national level. See Allen
D. Hicken, "From Pitsanuloke to Parliament: Multiple Parties
in Pre-1997 Thailand." In Michael Nelson, ed., Thailand's New
Politics: KPI Yearbook 2001 (Bangkok: King Prajadhipok's
Institute and White Lotus Press, 2002.

(a.) The 2001 election was held under the auspices of the
reformist 1997 constitution.

Table 2 Effective Number of Parties
Across Eleven Democracies in Asia

 Effective Number of Effective Number of
Country Electoral Parties Parliamentary Parties

Cambodia 2.81 2.39
Average (1993-1999)

Indonesia (1999) 5.05 4.87

South Korea 3.99 2.95
Average (1988-2000)

Malaysia 2.40 1.60
Average (1968-1999)

Philippines 3.99 4.90
Average (1987-2001) (1995-1998) (1987-2001)

Singapore 1.96 1.03
Average (1968-1997)

Thailand 8.50 6.00
Average (1979-2001)

Taiwan 3.09 2.69
Average (1992-2001)

Bangladesh 4.07 2.79
Average (1991-1996)

Nepal 3.89 2.48
Average (1991-1999)

Japan 3.30 2.82
Average (1947-2000)

Note: The numbers in this table are based partly on Aurel
Croissant, ed., Electoral Politics in Southeast and East
Asia (Singapore: Friedrich Ebert, 2002), p. 334, and partly
(in the case of Thailand) on the author's calculations.

Table 3 Party Characteristics

Thai Party Characteristics Elaboration

Party volatility. Refers to A symptom of fluidity has been
the relative ease by which Thai the common occurrence of party
political parties meteorically switching by MPs who hold no deep
form, merge, split, and burn out party loyalties. A second symptom
due to their loose organization, has been the sudden appearance of
decentralized nature, and lack new parties, such as New Aspiration
of cohesiveness over a given Party in 1990 and Thai Rak Thai in
period of time (see below). 1998, as well as the sudden burnout
In another sense, such fluidity of once-successful parties such as
reflects the high turnover in Palang Dharma in 1996 and Social
parties' MP membership and Action in 1999.
relative strength of party
changes even when the party
shells remain constant.

Dearth of top-down party The 1974, 1978, and 1991
discipline. constitutions compelled all MPs to
 belong to parties and obey party
 resolutions; yet in practice it
 was tough to enforce this latter
 requirement. a The lack of
 strictly enforced guidelines
 regarding MP behavior allowed MPs
 to vote against their party,
 disobey the will of the party
 majority, and switch parties
 whenever it benefited them.

Party regionalism. In terms of electoral behavior,
 the Democrat Party dominates the
 south. With regard to Thailand's
 north, northeast, central plains,
 and east, parties are "regional"
 only in the sense that their
 supporting factions and vote-
 canvassing structures are
 regionally based. (b)

Cadre parties (Duverger's term). Such parties--including Social
Groupings of political elites Action, Chart Thai, Democrat,
and financiers seek candidate Samakkhitham, and New Aspiration--
election, while voter base is have tended to be quite factious.
instrumental. Ideology is Thaksin Shinawatra exploited this
unimportant. Unlike mass party disarray, buying up factions
parties, cadre parties tend to build his Thai Rak Thai party.
to be "decentralized and weakly The nature of cadre (decentralized)
knit" Factionalism is rife. parties has facilitated party-
McCargo refers to "authentically switching and coalition instability
Thai" parties as being (particularly prior to 2001). (e)
controlled by "personalities
and the influence of money." (d)


(a.) In the case of Phol Ruengprasertvit's Siam Democratic Party
(SDP), its members even joined Chart Thai in 1983 while remaining
members of the SDP!

(b.) I would like to acknowledge the help of Napisa Waitoolkiat
on this final point.

(c.) Maurice Duverger, Political Parties (London: Methuen, 1954),
p. 67.

(d.) Duncan McCargo, "Thailand's Political Parties: Real, Authentic,
and Actual." In Kevin Hewison, ed., Political Change in Thailand:
Democracy and Participation (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 118.

(e.) This view concurs with that of Sven Groennings, who argued that
a decentralized (more factionalized) party makes for a less coherent
bargaining unit in parliamentary politics. See Sven Groennings, "Notes
Toward Theories of Coalition Behavior in Multiparty Systems: Formation
and Maintenance." In Sven Groennings, E. W. Kelly, and M. Leisersen,
eds., The Study of Coalition Behavior: Theoretical Perspectives and
Cases from Four Continents (New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston,
1968), pp. 445-465.

Table 4 Thai Parties and Factions, March 2005

 Mahachon Democrat
 (Opposition) (Opposition)

Number of MPs 2 96
 Total = 500
Number of factions 1 2.5

 Thai Rak Thai Chart Thai
 (Government) (Government)

Number of MPs 377 25
 Total = 500
Number of factions 15 1.5

Sources:; http://www.nationmultimedia.
com;; author's own calculations.
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Date:Sep 1, 2005
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