Thailand – Where Politics meets Religion

Religion is a pressing matter nowadays. It is spread all over the world, with different believes, different practices. Politics are not always apart from Religion. Both subjects can be the most far apart possible, or in other circumstances, one is embedded with the other.

Sabre Thailand

Being a country with recorded population since Pre-history, it had several influences along the ages. Later on, largely influenced by diverse Indian Kingdoms, each one with their own cultures and religions. This brought different knowledges to Thailand early on, with some of them loosing importance and other continuing to exist until our days. Upon what is believed to be as the arrival of the first Tais, coming from China in 700AD, this is another indication of the multi ethnic country that Thailand was at its formation. The first recorded Thai kingdom was Sukhothai Kingdom in 1238. Following this there were several other kingdoms that rouse and fell, however some beliefs and religions endured all those years.

Thailand had several designations throughout the years, however the nation how we know it today was formed in 1910, going through multiple revolutions and periods of uncertainty. Although faced political instability, religion was always a fundamental pilar which often sustained the political side of the country. With a vast majority of the country being Buddhist (94.50%), following of the other religious minorities Islam (4.29%) and Christianity (1.17%).

 

King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn

King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn

 

Politics

In Thailand, Religion and Politics are often side by side. As previous stated Religion is fundamental pilar in Thai society, meaning a lot to its population. As such, its often that political candidates referred to religion to gain supporters, according to common beliefs, minorities or more extremists.

After 1932, with a revolution succeeded, the political power shifted considerably, has the monarchy saw its powers reduced and giving an opening to constitutional process (Thailand Country Review, 2010). However the following years were marked by military revolts that imposed a prime minister without holding free elections, the population started to rise up against the military influence on the country’s politics. Afterwards, in 1992 after a democratic process, elections were held and the “Democratic Party” won (Thailand Country Review, 2010), ending the military rule, for some time. At this moment former General Prayuth Chan-ocha, is the prime minister, being first appointed by a military parliament. In March 2019 elections, running with as candidate of the Palang Pracharath Party, Prayuth Chan-ocha won, reassuring the country and leading once again to a democratic government (Thailand country profile, 2019).

However being a democracy, the monarchy still has a considerable influence over the population. Due to its history the monarchy was always considered a crucial factor in the country’s stability, representing alongside with religion a higher power that was meant to rule the population. In this case instead of Japan’s monarchy when the emperor was considered a god, in Thailand the king was considered to be a ruler but not a God. After a change in the constitution in 2017, the King still possesses some minor political powers such as summon a National Assembly. Nonetheless, nowadays the King is seen more not as a political figure but as leader that do not meddle in every political affair of the state. Similar to other monarchies, and specially to countries where there is a constitutional monarchy, like Spain, the King or Queen have different popularity levels withing their own population. According to (Thailand country profile, 2019), the present King Maha Vajiralongkorn, has a considerably less popularity level then his deceased father King Bhumibol Adulyadej. When the head of the monarchy is not so much accepted by its people, the monarchy loses its influence and can undermine even more the King’s power. In despite of this, the King is still crucial in times where there is need of work out political or social solutions to unstable periods, its influence can be used to bring every side to the table in order to maintain stability in the kingdom.

With the Constitutional Monarchy structure, the power lies in three different departments. Judicial incorporates, the courts, and it is independent from the other two types. The Legislative, composed by the “National Assembly”. And finally the Executive, which includes both The king (head of state) and the Prime Minister (head of government) (Kingdom of Thailand. Background Notes on Countries of the World 2003, 2003).

Religion

Being religious in Thailand is almost a certainty, as such it is part of the daily basis of the population. Since very soon in Thailand’s history, Buddhism was the main religion believed by the population. Often associated with part of Chinese culture due to influence of Chinese migrations early on (Travel Online, n.d.). However Buddhism teachings in Thailand diverge from Chinese, Japan and Korea (Jones, 2014).

According to Jones, Buddhism believed and taught in Thailand is called Theravada Buddhism, which is considered more classical and conservative than what is practiced in other countries.

As so many other religions, Buddhism preaches its believer to perform righteous actions on our daily basis, not only for the other people sakes but also achieve “merit” (Jones, 2014). This will allow the person to gain honours while that person lives, to be the purest and honourable person possible.

Religion is so interconnected with Thai people that, daily basis tasks are often believed to have a higher meaning, in other words, to have a religious objective and a reward. Being the reward spiritual or physical. As an example, when a person in Thailand wants to start a new business and opens a new place, a Buddhist monk has to be present to bring luck and bless the future entrepreneurship (Jones, 2014).

It is impossible to conceive and believe that Buddhism does not have its flaws, or rather, the believers are flawless. As many other religions across the planet, sometimes conflicts and other negative events happen supported by mistaken interpretation of religious teachings. Thailand unfortunately is not exception with some conflicts arousing in south Thailand. With problems creating by the treatment of Muslim population, however the government stated that these conflicts were due to “social and economic inequalities”, according to Khidhir (Khidhir, 2018). Even though, these local conflicts, it is fair to say that most of the country lives in peace.

Religious intolerance is another issue that follows religion itself wherever it goes. Independently if its Buddhism, Muslim, Christianism or any other existent religion. Although Thailand was never a country with issues due to religious intolerance, there as been some new evidence of a constant growth of this problem (Khidhir, 2018). A report cited by Khidhir refer “concerns” by Thai officials with the increasing of violence and could lead to a further escalation in conflicts and protests. To reply to this worrying events, representatives of Muslim community in Thailand have gathered with Buddhist monks with the goal of finding a solution that strikes this problem. Showing that believers of two completely different religions, with most of these representatives being Thailand nationals, working together to become possible to live side by side in peace (Khidhir, 2018).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddhism being the main religion in Thailand is only natural that the whole royal family is Buddhist. This in only another proof that religion is so embedded with Thai society, politics and history. When the holy is crucial to its population and besides the political perspective, religion has also a significant role on governing an entire Kingdom as Thailand. It is imperative to understand the importance of religion, and in this particular the role of Buddhism, in Thailand. A country that had numerous influences from neighbouring countries with different cultures and religions, that helped shape Thailand and Thai culture as we know it today. Where religion is within politics to help create a better place, where the heads of state and government are followers of Buddhism. It is duty of Politician to help preserve Thai culture, and that means to protect other religious minorities and to ensure that there is religious freedom for every person in Thailand. That being said it is compelling to observe how Religion can shape so much of a country. Through out the years Thailand have seen many changes, social or political nevertheless, Buddhism was always present in its history.

 

References

(n.d.). Retrieved from Travel Online: https://www.travelonline.com/thailand/religion

Jones, R. (2014). Thailand – Culture Smart! : The Essential Guide to Costumes & Culture. Kuperard.

Khidhir, S. (2018, October 17). Putting a lid on religious intolerance. The Asean Post.

(2003). Kingdom of Thailand. Background Notes on Countries of the World 2003. Bussiness Source Ultimate.

Thailand country profile. (2019, March 7). BBC News.

(2010). Thailand Country Review. CountryWatch Incorporated.

 

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