Thailand has the histories of repetition of coups and elections or military and “democratic” regimes, since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932. The Thai general elections took place on March 24, 2019 was the first elections conducted after the coup in 2014 under the military regime led by General Prayuth Chan-o-cha as the incumbent prime minister. The official result of the elections is not yet available (as of May 3) by the election commission, due to confusions mounting around the interpretation of the new Thai electoral laws amended in 2017. Will Thailand reject the military influence and come back as a “democratic” country again? My answer is “less likely” because the 2019 elections have different meanings from ones in the past.
Thailand domestic politics has been the result of competitions among three groups: the military, the monarchists, and ordinary people. The military was considered to retreat themselves from politics “back to the barrack” after popular uprising in 1992, and it served then-King Bhumibol Adulyadej who was very popular, and took a side of the monarchists. From 1992 to early 2000, it was “royal democracy” era where parties elected in the elections were under the political influence and interventions of the monarchists that Thai politics were relatively stable. Then, “popular democracy” which was led by Thaksin Shinawatra and his followers who were supported by North/Northeast parts of Thailand and working class in Bangkok, becomes dominant in Thai politics and Thaksin and his followers have continuously won the majority in elections since 2001. This was a threat to both the monarchists and the military who place emphasis on royal family’s authority and its political roles, because popular democracy emerged by criticizing established interest and the echelon. The 2006 coup was led by the monarchists with the military to regain the monarchists’ political advantage over Thaksin. However, mounting disaffectedness towards the monarchists clearly showed that popular democracy was inevitable. Thus, Anti-Thaksin groups amended the election system in the constitutions in 2007 and 2011 to prevent the emergence of popular democracy. Another threat to the monarchists and the military was King Bhumibol’s health issue. King Bhumibol who was popular was the core value or their legitimacy of the monarchists and the military. The 2014 coup was “another attempt to secure royal democracy in the final years of King Bhumibol.”
The military coups in 2006 and 2014 took place in order to restore the social order, after the commotion due to the political conflict between the monarchists who want royal democracy and ordinary people who want popular democracy. The 2014 coup, however, was different from the 2006 coup. Military was not serving for the monarchists who have been losing popular support but was working for themselves to stay in power. Under the military regime, the royal succession due do the death of Bhumibol to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who does not have popularity like Bhumibol did, was peacefully conducted. General Prayuth stayed as the prime minister for the longest period of time since the 1958 coup, and succeeded to amend the election system in the Constitution in 2017 to keep the military influence in Congress. For example, the 2017 Constitution stipulates that upper house members are chosen by National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) comprised of executors of the 2014 coup and assigned by the King, and the prime minister will be chose by the majority support from both lower (5oo seats) and upper house (250 seats). Moreover, the military managed to form pro-military parties in the 2019 elections. The military successfully managed to institutionalize their power in Congress and the Constitution for the 2019 elections. Obviously, the election system is no longer democratic as liberal democracy assumes but by conducting the election, the military is trying to gain the legitimacy from its population. The 2019 elections are asking Thais whether it wants the mix of military regime/royal democracy or popular democracy. Depending on the result, Thailand could resist to restore democracy, or go down a road to royal democracy or even further – military regime.
Authoritarian resilience in Asia have been discussed among researchers and Thailand is no exception. In Asia, “achieving ‘order’ rather than guaranteeing ‘justice’ for the individual remains highly valued” and a social contract “whereby rulers provided for the well-being of their well-being of their citizens, who offered obedience in return” has a significant influence in the society. In fact, when the military came into the office in 2014 the military regime received its highest approval ratings several months because population expected that the military leaders would restore the order in both the society and the politics. The decline of the support occurred due to its failure of tacking the issues of “drugs, corruption, and cost of living pressures”. Thus, if authoritarian regime can manage to respond to population needs, they can receive poplar support in Thailand.
Another element which could push Thailand to go down a road to move away from democracy is that the rise of China. China has been advocating the legitimacy of authoritarianism by achieving high economic growth and development and supporting undemocratic countries. Thailand is a country which does not have a territorial dispute with China like other ASEAN countries and has been taking a balancing approach towards geopolitical powers – China and US – in their foreign policy. Critics against Thai authoritarian regimes by US could provoke a political backlash against US as seen in 2014 and lead it to lean towards China. Thus, if China deepens the relationship with Thai military regime, Thai could move farther towards authoritarianism. The Thailand domestic politics is likely to continue to be unstable because of a new power balance among the competitors – reviving military, the monarchists with unpopular King, and ordinary people under the unfair election system. It is a critical time for Thais population to consider whether they want democracy and fight for it.
“*Prayuth Cartoon by iLaw photo, Creative Commons Zero license, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.”
 In Thailand, there have been at least fifteen coups or coup attempts since the country became a constitutional monarchy n 1932.
“Understanding Authoritarian Resilience and Countering Autocracy Promotion in Asia”, Asia Policy, Vol.13, Number 4, October 2018, p112, https://doi.org/10.1353/asp.2018.0051
 Researchers use the word “monarchist” to classify people who place emphasis on authority and the political role of the royal family. The monarchists are often found among affiliate of the royal family, military, bureaucrats, judges, academian, and middle class in urban area.
Shinya Imaizumi, “Analysis on Congress and election system in the Constitution 2017”, IDE-square, February 2019, http://hdl.handle.net/2344/00050733, p2
 Thongchai Winichakul, “The Significance of March 24 Election in Thailand”, IDE-square, February 2019
 Ibid. Winichakul, p5
 Ibid. Winichakul, p6
“Understanding Authoritarian Resilience and Countering Autocracy Promotion in Asia”, Asia Policy, Vol.13, Number 4, October 2018, p111, https://doi.org/10.1353/asp.2018.0051
 Ibid. Lee, p112
 Ibid. Lee, p112
I found your point about the role of China in Thailand’s democratic erosion particularly interesting. External pressures and alliances can definitely have an effect on internal regime change. It also makes me think about the broader role of militaries in democracies.
Does war breed democratic erosion? Does military involvement in regime decisions lead to undermining of democratic norms?