Skip to content

Breaking the Cycle of Coups: The Future of Thai Democracy

Friday 20 March 2015, 1630 – 1830, Auditorium 1

PJ Thum
University of Oxford

Wimonsiri Hemtanon
Universität Passau

This roundtable considers the future of democracy in Thailand in the wake of the 22 May 2014 military coup – Thailand’s twelfth military coup under King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It is likely that the current military intervention is just as doomed to fail as the last one in 2006. Almost a decade of electoral boycotts, constitutional gerrymandering, judicial coups, military coups and relentless street protests have been driven by a fundamental social conflict. Thailand’s poorer classes share a sense of grievance and injustice. Having gained unprecedented experience in political mobilisation, they refuse to give up until they gain their share of political power and economic resources. The business, political, bureaucratic, and military elites refuse to bow to street protests.

Neither side has the strength to defeat the other. The yellow-shirt faction holds extensive bureaucratic, legal and military power, but its political representatives, the Democrat Party, have never won a national majority in elections since 1992. Conversely, the red-shirt faction can never rely on the loyalty of the state apparatus, but enjoys considerable economic heft and persistent popular support, having won every Thai election since 2001. Nor, in the current post-Cold War political climate, the military cannot resort to its tactics of 1973 and 1976, when massacres and counter-insurgency warfare suppressed the rising Thai left.

This conflict cannot be simply engineered out of existence through any amount of institutional tinkering. But until this fundamental conflict is resolved, Thailand will remain locked in a cycle of violent, repetitive struggles, with state power alternating between these two groups.

This roundtable that brings together leading academics and politicians of Thailand to discuss how Thailand might break this cycle and find its way out of violence towards democracy.


  • Patrick Jory (University of Queensland)

Patrick Jory teaches modern Southeast Asian History in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland. Previously he was coordinator of the Regional Studies Program (Southeast Asia) at Walailak University in southern Thailand. His research interests cover Thailand’s cultural and political history, and Islam and Muslim society in southern Thailand and Southeast Asia. His forthcoming book examines the origins and development of Thailand’s theory of monarchy.

  • Paul Chambers (Chiang Mai University) 

Dr. Paul Chambers serves as Professor and Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs, Faculty of Law, Chiang Mai University.  He is also concurrently Research Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, Phnom Penh (Cambodia), the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (Germany), and the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg (Germany). He has written extensively on security sector reform, democracy, and peace studies in Southeast Asia (but especially in Thailand), and has published widely as the author of books and journal articles alike.

  • Pavin Chachavalpongpun (Kyoto University)

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University, Japan, where he teaches Southeast Asian Politics and International Relations in Asia. Earning his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, Pavin is the author of two books: “A Plastic Nation: The Curse of Thainess in Thai-Burmese Relations” and “Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy”.

  •  Claudio Sopranzetti (University of Oxford)

Claudio Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Fellow at All Souls College, University of Oxford. He received his PhD in anthropology from Harvard University in 2013 with a dissertation titled The Owners of the Map: mobility and politics among motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok. He is also the author of Red Journeys: inside the Thai Red Shirts movement, an ethnographic account of the 2010 protest in the Thai capital. He is currently working on an ethnographic biography of two political organisers in Bangkok and on a transnational project on West African traders in Southeast Asia.