The “People’s Constitution” drafted in 1997 was seen as a watershed event in Thai constitutional history due to the breadth and depth of its reforms. Yet just ten years later, in August 2007, a new Constitution was promulgated, the 18th since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
The latest version followed the ouster in September 2006 of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a military coup. This article examines the main differences between the 1997 and 2007 versions of the Constitution and how these changes relate to the current unrest in Thailand. The analysis suggests that Thailand’s current instability is best understood in terms of how social struggles over access to power played out in constitutional choices. Though Thailand’s urban elites and middle class had driven the drafting of the earlier Constitution, when the populist leadership it produced threatened their interests they were quick to support the traditional military and royal networks in ousting the elected government and replace the People’s Constitution with one that is deliberately less democratic. Yet, because the drafting process failed to generate support beyond narrow elite circles, and the new institutional arrangements no longer provide the inclusive governance Thai people have come to expect, the new Constitution has generated tensions that suggest Thailand is unlikely to experience stability any time soon.