Thailand was an absolute monarchy until 1932, when it became a constitutional monarchy. It’s the only country in southeast Asia that has never been colonised, but that doesn’t mean it has been free from political struggle. Indeed, Thailand has a long history of military coups; Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha himself seized power in a military coup that ousted Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.
In March 2019, the country's first election in five years resulted in no party winning a clear majority. Prime Minister Prayut remained in power despite the opposition winning the most seats in the lower house of Parliament, after the government-appointed upper house voted for him.
Despite deep political divisions, Thailand has experienced rapid social and economic development over the past four decades, changing from an agricultural-based to an industrial-based economy. However, inequalities in socio-economic welfare still remain, caused by disparities in the distribution of wealth, environmental degradation and the effects of urbanisation and COVID-19. The people groups living in the nation’s northern- and western-most regions are particularly affected, due to a combination of a lack of infrastructure and services and their status as ethnic minorities.
Up to half of these ethnic minority hill tribe members don’t have citizenship papers, meaning they cannot own land or travel freely between districts and have no access to social welfare services. This makes them vulnerable to a range of issues: poor healthcare and education, unemployment and economic poverty, even trafficking and threats of displacement. Yet, sans citizenship, they lack representation and face a long road to economic and social equality.
The local church continues to be critically important in caring for the people of these forgotten communities, especially the children.