Seminar: Royalist Guided Democracy in Thailand – How it Operates



Royal democracy is a form of guided democracy. It is ostensibly a democratic polity but one where the elected authority does not have substantive power because this remains in the hands of the network-monarchy. Known as a “Democratic Regime with the Monarchy as the Head of the State”, Thailand has a political system in which the formal parliamentary system is under the domination of an unelected and undemocratic power.
Arguing that the monarchy is a political power bloc that has been active throughout modern history resulting in royal democracy from the mid-1970s, this talk will focus on how royal democracy actually operates ‘above’ the democratic system via the army, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the Privy Council. The significance of this royal hegemony, which depends entirely on the charisma of King Bhumibol, will be explained.

It will be argued that the country’s political turmoil since 2006 is essentially the crisis of royal democracy triggered by the challenge from electoral democracy and the looming end of the Bhumibol era. The prospect of royal democracy and the possibility of praetoriansim will also be discussed.


Thongchai Winichakul is Professor of History at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first book, Siam Mapped (1994) was awarded the Harry J Benda Prize from the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) in 1995, and the Grand Prize from the Asian Affairs Research Council (Japan) in 2004. He was a recipient of the John Simon Guggenheim Award in 1994 and elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. He was a former President of the AAS in 2013/14. His research interests are in the intellectual foundation of modern Siam (1880s-1930s) including nationalism, modern geography and cartography, and historical knowledge. He also publishes articles and books of political and social commentaries in Thai. As Visiting Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, he worked on the concept of ‘royal democracy’ in Thailand.


For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 7 January 2016.


Jan 08 2016


3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2