The Influence of Class System in Thailand’s Political Environment

The Siam dynasty marked a formative era for Thailand. From such a time, culture and politics could not be separated.  The Thai alphabet was composed by the King, so the Thai language itself is an added accolade of the many tributes paid to the Royal family at every turn, as much in the city centre as in the smallest shop in the rural areas. The King of Thailand is endorsed as the highest Buddhist figure in the nation; therefore, politics, culture, and religion can only be separated through a litmus test.



From the very beginnings of Thai history, language, culture, and politics have been intertwined in Juxtapose. It is not easy to determine which factor influences the other but it is evident that all three bear great power upon Thailand. The relationship between the highest leader, the King, and the citizens, the humble servants, is akin to that of a father and child. This relationship is a great contrast to leadership in the West, and still, the power struggle ensues. As in the West, media is a primary tool for changing the perception of the locals and the one holding power has the most control of it.

Strong political growth and little political reforms have been maintained because Thailand was never colonized by the West, though at a costly sacrifice of some of its borders. Even so, the South of Thailand is in deep political turmoil due to policies that are not palatable for Southern Thai’s who feel they belong to Malaysia and thus have been struggling to break away in vain – with so many casualties in bombings, violence, and murders, and still no success, thus far.

The conflict in Thai society between different social classes such as the divide between Thai’s from the North and those from the South, the rich and the poor, and the Buddhist from the Muslim creates friction among otherwise friendly peoples.

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To present the Thai political structure is alike to the Thai class system. These two, though not to be confused, play quite interchangeable roles. Thai society affects the politics of the Nation and politics is shaping the Thai society as well. This can be seen in the struggle for those in power to keep those without power without it, and the huge conflict that arises whenever the change is discussed, with media used as a tool to persuade citizen opinion.

Any significant reform that a government tries to put in place is met by uproar from opposition or support from the red or yellow shirts depending on whom the reform favours. Though not entirely a democratic state, it is clear that citizens are a key part of the political game. Thailand has seen very little change in societal or political structure.



The Thai government comprises of three branches including the executive, legislative and judiciary system. Regardless of this structure, the power holders, in fact, remain the same because they have distributed themselves in these sectors.

When the absolute monarchy was dissolved in 1932, democratic elections were introduced with a Prime Minister being voted in as head of the Thai government through political parties. This could be achieved according to the constitution and the chosen leader will have to come from the most voted in the party.

Besides election, power was still given to the King to approve of the particular chosen Minister. This shows that even though a Prime Minister can have power over the affairs of the government, the final say will have to come from the Monarchy, particularly if it is to be approved by the people at all.

The government operates from the Government house building complex. In the event of a coup, the National Council for Peace and Order takes charge of Thailand’s affairs.




The Thai society is made up of hierarchical structure that has remained quite unchanged since the beginning of Thai society. The reason for the endurance of this class structure is that Thailand never really experienced colonization from western powers.

Thai society has seen very little development in its structure even though Western Capitalism has ravaged its bigger cities such as Bangkok, Chieng Mai, and Phuket. There is no evidence that the class structure will improve nor is the society proactively campaigning for its change.

The reason change is Thai society class structure is not in sight is because the Nation has never experienced any great injustice from the class system. Even though many in the rural areas are poor, there is no famine because of the abundance of rice farms, and through citizens protest corruption, like the rice scheme crisis, majorities maintain their livelihood. The class system can be deemed unfair or even unjust, yet it appears the average Thai person accommodate this as a core part of the Thai culture.

Because the power structure of Thailand has not evolved as much as other countries, the legitimacy crisis for power that continues to rampage the Thai society and political scene can be dated back to the beginning of the Thai society.

Currently, Thailand has seen coups in nearly every government since the abolition of absolute Monarchy in the 90s. This does not signal a beginning of the problem because even the Monarch had had to contest their position in Thai society before the coming of Democracy. In olden times, whoever was most powerful became King.


At the top of the class, the structure is the Monarchy with the King, Queen, the royal family and its extended family with subordinates. Falling under the Monarchy are the nobles and dukes; these people are very wealthy and highly paid for their honorary roles while others have equally high paying real jobs. They make up the elite of Thai society.

Under the elite is the Military or better known as the ‘warrior class.’ The Military is also directly connected to the King and Queen, through the first and second infantry known as Kings guards or Queens guards ‘tiger warriors’, respectively. It should be noted most top military positions are given to members of elite groups. There are a few exceptions that have risen in rank and created family dynasties such as the ‘farang’ Sarasin family. (In Thailand ‘farang’ means foreigner.). These strata that have been responsible for challenging the Thai idea of democracy with military coups since the end of the total monarchy rule in the 1990’s.

The bureaucrats hold nearly the same power as the military, with its ability to manage affairs dealing with land giving them much power. The Politicians are usually sourced from this class or backed by the elite. Below these comes the business class, which, with good business can grow in power at which time the elites may grant them an honorary title or put him in the lower ranks of their elite groups in order to be able to manage that power.

Making the lowermost and also quite importance class structure is the vast majority of the people such as the farmers, skilled workers and poor people, as the foreigners cannot really make claim to having integrated into Thai society no matter how long they’ve lived in the nation. Therefore, foreigners or ‘farang’ make the bottom of the bottom social class system.

These class systems show little sign of improving or ever dissipating unless an unlikely radical change sweeps over Thailand.

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By observing the class system closely, you will see a pattern in which the Thai societal class can adequately represent party candidates. This is to mean that the person most likely to be voted in would have to be in good favour with the elite and Monarch.

In Thai society, the lower person is almost always subject to the higher person. Therefore, if there is a political conflict that is getting out of hand, the King will be involved to pacify the situation. His word is final and many conflicts in Thailand have been resolved that way.

The class system is what keeps the military in power because no one can object to the power that is just beneath the King and elites. Unless another bigger power challenges the military coup then they will remain in power because according to Thai society; the higher in rank is the one who deserves the legitimacy to rule.

This notion is now causing conflict which has seen democracy being heavily challenged because legitimacy to rule depends on influence in society. In Thai history, the strongest became King. This has been adopted into the politics. The introduction of a Western-style democracy creates friction because some Western values conflict with Thai values.

The Thai way of handling issues is different from the western way of approaching problems. This conflict worsens for the Thai person who wants to embrace western values and reject cultural values, no matter the class, because of societal prejudice placed on it. The government faces the same crisis.

The true identity of Thai politics can only be understood when the Thai people choose either to follow the Thai way fully or completely embrace Western-style democracy. Or perhaps, a unique ruling style will develop when the two are merged.



Hadassah Louis

Founder, Safety First for Girls (SAFIGI)



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