I've never seen a more popular political figure in the world than the King of Thailand and his uniting role in Thailand government. I mean the people really love him.
Even though the King of Thailand has little real power in Thailand government; he does stands for unity and national identity of the people.
King Bhumibol, the current king, has been king since 1946 and carries enormous popularity and respect of the people. On occasion the king has brought the nation together by talking with fighting political parties or military leaders. All government and military heads still kneel before the king.
Most Thais have a picture of the Thai king in their house or in their place of business.
On the king's birthday, everyone wears a yellow shirt and I mean everyone. Thais even wear a yellow shirt throughout the year to remember the king. It's hard not to like a guy who's loved by everyone and I found myself a part of the people at times.
The Thai king has the official title of Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, and upholder of the Buddhist religion. He even holds the title defender of all faiths which I'm not sure what that means. These titles are mostly just that, titles.
The military is actually managed by the Ministry of Defense of Thailand and commanded by the Royal Thai Armed Forces headquarters which is head by an individual with the title of Chief of Defense Forces of Thailand.
The Royal Thai Armed Forces was created in 1852 by the King of Thailand in order to resist any Western attempts to take over and colonize Thailand.
In 1932 the people of Thailand and the military over threw the absolute monarchy system, established a constitutional monarchy and the first constitution was written into law.
The capital of Thailand is currently in Bangkok and Thailand government affairs are mostly administered from Parliament House.
The head of Thailand government and the person with real power in politics is the Prime Minister.
The most renown (or should say infamous) prime minister was Taksin Shinawatra. Taksin was in power from 2001 to 2006. Many thought he did a good job as prime minister but many were not impressed and accused him of corruption and putting his country in conflicts of interest while raising his own power.
There many various political parties fighting for power with-in Thailand. It's not as simple as republican and democrat.You have the Thai Rak Thai party (which means Thai loves Thai), l ed by ousted Taksin Shinawatra, you have PAD (People's Alliance for Democracy) and many other power parties which all have their own agenda depending on who's leading it. Some of these parties pay poor Thais to rally with them and some parties are true believers and fight hard for what they want.
Thailand has undergone several coups and constitutional changes (18 to be exact) since 1932 but democracy still remains in some form.
One of the most important things to understand in Thai politics is that the military is always in the background ready to take over if they see things that they think are not right.
You have two types of police in Thailand the tourist police and the regular police.
The average police officer in Thailand doesn't get paid very much, about $200 usd a month. So in turn the police rely heavily on the local community and collecting money from various minor fines to stay afloat. On average you will not deal with the police.
The only time I really met with the police was for a minor traffic violation for something I really didn't think I was doing wrong. However, I was always polite and didn't argue with them. My wife would talk with the police in Thai, slip them 200 or 300 baht and we were on our way. I'm not saying this is right but I prefer paying a random couple hundred baht sometimes, than worrying about paying $200usd for moving violations in the U.S.
Some Thais seem to think there is a mild undertow of power and political struggle between the police and the military as well but I'm not sure I've seen proof of this. However, there is still a major power struggle between various deep rooted political parties at this current time and it seems unclear whether this will end any time soon. Thai government may still have some rocky times ahead if they can't unite.
The current King of Thailand, King Bhumibol Adulyadej seems to be holding the people together somewhat for now. If the new king or queen is not as strong as the current then there could be more political trouble ahead for the Thailand government and the people of this wonderful country.