December 10 is Constitution Day in Thailand, a day to remember the adoption of the country’s first permanent constitution in 1932. As the holiday is close to the late King’s Birthday on 5 December, some people take a few work days off to create a long break and be part of the activities of both holidays.
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The Thai people have referred to their land as “Mueang Thai” (land of the free) from time immemorial, though foreigners once were accustomed to call Thailand “Siam.” The monarchy is also a tradition that goes back for centuries. The earliest Thai kingdoms of note were the Kingdom of Sukhothai, founded in 1238 A.D., and the later Kingdom called “Ayutthaya,” which lasted from the 1300’s until it was destroyed by Burma in 1767.
The modern kingdom, however, began when the Chakri Dynasty arose in 1782, its capital being Bangkok and its first king Rama I. These were all absolute monarchies, and the constitution of 1932, as well as later constitutions, limited the power of the monarchy and place more power in the hands of the people’s representatives in government.
During the 1920s, Thailand was thrown into both economic and political upheaval. Then in 1932 the armed forces, police, and intellectual class approached king Rama VII and demanded his power be limited. Not only a democratic spirit but also the king’s extreme youth led to the loss of confidence in his ability to lead the nation. At first, the king refused, but at last, on 10 December 1932, he acquiesced. The king was essentially stripped of all power, but his position as king was protected.
Since that day, there have been 20 more constitutions of Thailand, yet the monarchy endured them all. To this day, Thailand’s king is held in high regard as the official head of state, commander and chief of the military, and “upholder of all religions.”
For those in Thailand on Constitution Day, three ideas on what to do are given below:
- In Bangkok and throughout the country, attend the Constitution Day parades, watch the fireworks events, and see the numerous representations of the present and past kings of Thailand on display everywhere. Also note that government buildings will light up at night, and there may be some public seminars and exhibits instructing people about how Thailand’s poltics work.
- See the Democracy Monument in Bangkok on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. It occupies a circular plaza in the middle of a busy turnaround highway. It has an image of the Constitution of 1932 in the centre at the top of a turret and four tall, platform-based “golden wings” surrounding it.
- See the procession in Dusit, which is sometimes attended by the king and high-ranking government officials. The central point in the celebrations is the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which is the very spot where King Rama VII sat down to sign Thailand’s original constitution back in 1932.