HomeAsia-Pacific Social Science Reviewvol. 17 no. 1 (2017)

On the Path to Democracy in Thailand: Military Reform is the First Step

Siwach Sripokangkul



This article describes various aspects of the Thai military as a power bloc and introduces five case studies in countries facing similar situations in order to obtain lessons for military reform. I propose that the army is the main barrier to democratization, and thus, the next transitional government must undertake military reform as its first task. To support this objective, the article introduces relevant literature and background, describes the historical development of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), describes and explains the key characteristics of the RTA, especially the unchecked nature of its power. It then addresses one of the key ways in which the RTA demonstrates its power, through violence. I then review the mechanisms of democratization in South American, Asian, and Eastern European countries that achieved democratic consolidation through various means, including military reform. I suggest that in Thailand, comprehensive military reform will bring
about additional institutional reforms, creating professionalism, preventing the situation of a (military) state within a state, and strengthening the supremacy of civilian authority over the military institution. I recommend that military reform can be achieved through demobilization, downsizing, a reduction in conscription, a reduction and auditing of the military budget, abolition of martial law, changes in legislation to severely punish military coups d’état, legislative changes that give people rights to military information, education for the military on non-violent methods of engagement, and reform of the National Security Council as well as the National Intelligence Agency, among other methods. If this can be achieved, a consolidated democracy and sustainable reconciliation may be viable in Thailand.