6 June 2024

Since the country’s first general election in November 1933 after becoming a constitutional monarchy, the elected House of Representatives has been dissolved 13 times – mostly following conflicts in coalition governments.

However, the three last dissolutions came amid serious political crises that divided the country.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is expected to dissolve the current House before its four-year term expires in March. Certain opposition figures reckon he will do so by December, but many political analysts are pointing to February or March.

At the prime minister’s suggestion, His Majesty the King has the royal prerogative to dissolve the House in preparation for a general election to select new MPs. The House dissolution is made in the form of a royal decree, according to the Constitution.

Gen Prayut has the task of timing the dissolution to bring himself the maximum political advantage at the next general election, which is tentatively scheduled for May 7 but can be earlier if he dissolves the House prematurely.

The PM has kept his cards tight to his chest, refusing to answer media questions regarding his political future in general and the possibility of a House dissolution in particular.

First House dissolution

Thailand’s first dissolution of the House of Representatives took place on September 11, 1938, under the premiership of Colonel Phraya Phahonphonphayuhasena, less than a year after a general election. The prime minister had a royal decree issued for House dissolution following a conflict between the legislature and the government regarding the annual state budget.

Seven years later came the second House dissolution, which was called by then-prime minister MR Seni Pramoj on October 15, 1945.

Seni explained that the House had existed “an unusually long time” since the previous election in 1938, as no elections were held during World War II. In his decree, he said a new election was needed to reflect current voter opinion. Seni’s post-war government was in conflict with many lawmakers allied with the wartime administration led by Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who was being threatened by a war crime law proposed by Seni’s government for his alliance with the Japanese military.

A three-decade break

There was a 31-year hiatus before the third House dissolution took place on January 12, 1976, under MR Kukrit Pramoj’s premiership. After repeated conflicts in his coalition government, the PM decided to dissolve the House just two days before a scheduled no-confidence debate.

Third time lucky

Gen Prem Tinsulanonda was the only Thai prime minister to dissolve the House three times, during his eight-year rule from March 1980 to August 1988.

His first dissolution came on March 19, 1983, after the two Houses of Parliament clashed over a constitutional amendment to change the election system.

Three years later, on May 1, 1986, Prem dissolved the House again after a large number of coalition MPs voted with the opposition against a bill proposed by his government. His third dissolution occurred on April 29, 1988, amid a damaging conflict between coalition parties.

Temporary government

Then-PM Anand Panyarachun dissolved the House on June 30, 1992, just 20 days after assuming office as head of an ad-hoc administration set up after anti-government protesters were killed in the “Black May” crackdown a month earlier. His dissolution decree cited the need for a new general election to select MPs that were acceptable to the public.

Political row and economic crisis

Chuan Leekpai dissolved the House on May 19, 1995, after a key party withdrew from his coalition government following a dispute stemming from a landholding scandal linked to certain figures in his Democrat Party.

His second dissolution came on November 9, 2000, after his government’s success in dealing with the 1997 financial crisis. Chuan had taken over from Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who stepped down after the crisis broke out.

Earlier, on September 27, 1996, then-PM Banharn Silapa-archa dissolved the House amid pressure from coalition parties to resign following his poor performance at a censure debate.

Prompted by severe conflicts

Thailand’s last three House dissolutions were all triggered by severe political conflicts that spilled onto the streets.

Thaksin Shinawatra dissolved the House on February 24, 2006, after a dangerous confrontation between anti-government protesters and his supporters.

More than five years later, then-PM Abhisit Vejjajiva did the same on May 10, 2011, to keep his promise to anti-government protesters following a constitutional amendment. A year earlier, he had faced weeks of street protests, which began after the Supreme Court ordered the seizure of 46 billion baht in Thaksin’s assets earned through abuse of power. Many people were killed during the confrontation in Bangkok.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved the House on December 9, 2013, after weeks of massive street protests triggered by her government’s bill to grant an amnesty to those involved in recent political conflicts, including those convicted of corruption and murder.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk