Since 1946 when Thailand became a member of the United Nations (UN), it has steadily gained recognition within the international community as an important world player in the global political, economic and cultural realms of power. The country is also a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which comprises of neighbouring nations such as Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, amongst others, constituting an organization that focuses on accelerating economic growth, cultural development and promoting peace and political stability. In regards to foreign diplomacy and trade, Thailand’s most notable political partners include China, Japan and the United States of America (USA) where its relations with the North American country specialize in bilateral relations concerning the military, intellectual property, labour forces, the environment and the Thai export industry, in comparison with the Asian allies that primarily are valued for exporting activities in the agricultural, automobile, petrochemicals and electronic sectors. Since the elections in 2011, the current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has placed a renewed emphasis on strengthening neighbouring relations and domestic affairs; civil unrest and government corruption occurring in the surrounding countries has provided Thailand with the opportunity to emerge as a political moderator and peace-maker, allowing the developing nation to become a proponent for democracy.
Thailand’s economy is especially noted for having an educated labour force and handling low-cost manufacturing exporting activities, ensuring continuing reliance on the export industry for its domestic wealth. The nation currently remains one of the largest economies in the Southeast Asian region. Approximately 40% of the Thai’s workforce is employed in the agricultural sector, mainly working for the production of rice where the commodity has become the nation’s largest source of growth and exports. Other agricultural products produced include fishery products, rubber, corn and sugar where they are exported to ASEAN members and to the USA, European nations, Japan and China. Despite success in the economic regulation of exporting industries, overall economic performance has been largely decelerated by the unstable political and economic development occurring along its northern and southern borders. Currently, Thailand holds the status of a newly industrialized country where the economic policies in place are not sufficient to provide a stable transition to a liberal democratic system of government and market regulation. This can also be seen in the decreasing confidence of Thai consumers in the government’s market-based policies. There is also a significant lack of transparency in regulatory policies and socio-economic safeguards to build consumer confidence and to allow market liberalism and growth, slowing the transition of the country’s economic pace to a democratic state.
Concerning civil society and citizens’ liberties, despite the 1997 constitutional reform that granted women equal status to men in the political and economic realms, many differences persist in their treatment in the labour force and in political processes. Most Thai women continue to serve in the domestic scene where they find work in menial jobs requiring minimal education. According to statistics gathered in 2011, women comprise only 15% of representatives in Thailand’s House of Commons and Senate, highlighting the differences in electoral representation and the implications of a continuing tradition of a patriarchal governing system. Moreover, the sex trafficking industry remains a major source of civil problems as women are typically used within this context as objects attracting sex tourism, bringing the issue of equality into light as a hindrance in Thailand’s ability to assume its governance as a democratic, liberal system of operation.
In regards to domestic religion, about 95% of citizens currently practice Buddhism, the official religion of the country. Currently, conflict persists in the Southern provinces between those of Buddhist faith, and those of the second most popular religion, Islam, with occasional ruptures of violence. Given the unwilling consensus of the Provinces of the South to concede to a compromise in accommodating the Buddhist religion to promote its beliefs throughout domestic institutions and in general society, it seems rather unlikely currently that a truce will take place, raising questions and issues over the peace and stability of the region and hence, whether the nation is ripe for a successful democratic transition.
In the following pages, we present a comprehensive summary of each of the topics discussed above and provide more in-depth analyses as to whether we believe the developing nation of Thailand is ready for a successful transition into a democratic state, based on year-to-year evidence of the political, economic and cultural climate of the country. Sources are listed as part of the contributors to this project.