This paper argues that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, Buddhist Era 2540 (1997 Constitution) required nationalization of party and catchall party, and that Thaksin Shinawatra (Thaksin) and his Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won the majority in the 2001 and 2005 elections because he could succeeded in making the TRT catchall party. The nationalization of party and catchall party nationalized Thai politics which replaced the previously atomized political space in Thailand.
Thai politics have become unstable and authoritarian since the 2001 election. Mass politics have emerged and linked to elite politics, which previously were separate from the masses including farmers. However, most studies on the 1997 Constitution and Thaksin politics have focused on the ways that the 1997 Constitution helped Thaksin and the TRT win the elections, which allowed them to challenge the traditional political powers. Focusing on elite politics is necessary, but it is not sufficient to explain current Thai politics, which have essentially changed in response to mass participation in national politics. Before the 2001 election, the electorate was atomized regarding candidates or a district’s Puak (informal political groups) through patron-client relations and influence peddling. Elections were limited to individual candidates, and the brands of political parties and their platforms were not important to election campaigns. Therefore, the electorate was not engaged in national politics even when it was highly aware of those politics because the political structure was a fragmented political space.
The 1997 Constitution established a system for elections in single-member districts, a party list system, and a powerful prime minister. The new institutional changes required the nationalization of party and, which, in turn, provided strong incentives to implement social policies that spread benefits throughout the country. TRT was able to respond to the changes using Puak politics, social policies, and image-oriented election campaigns to win the national majorities. However, TRT did not build a strong national-level party organization because Thai society lacks strong mid-level groups connecting the electorate to political parties, such as labor unions, agricultural cooperatives, and civic groups.
As a result of the nationalization of party and advent of social policies, the farmers, large part of electorate, began to demand political citizenship and social citizenship, which promoted the nationalization of political space. The middle class, as part of the masses, and the elite, such as the junta, the bureaucrats, and the monarchy, oppose the nationalization of politics because they feel it challenge their interests.