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10 December is celebrated annually as Constitution Day across Thailand and is a public holiday. Falling just a few days after the socially significant holiday for the King’s birthday on 05 December, it is a welcome holiday for those in Thailand and often enables people to take an extended break by taking only one or two days off work between the two holidays.
The history of the Constitution Day public holiday dates back to 1932, when Thailand – which at the time was still known as Siam – remained under a system of absolute monarchy under King Rama VII, King Prajadhipok. In the face of troubles as a result of the Great Depression, a coup took place with the aim of a move away from the system of absolute monarchy. Thailand’s first codified constitution was signed by the King on 10 December 1932. Though the numerous political upheavals and coups that Thailand has seen since 1932 have resulted in a number of different versions of the Thai constitution coming into force, Constitution Day continues to be celebrated as the date of the first constitution’s birth and Thailand’s transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy.
At Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, located on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, a representation of the 1932 constitution sits on two golden offering bowls atop a turret as part of the monument, and is guarded by four wing-like structures intended to represent the four branches of Thailand’s armed forces – the army, navy, air force and police – which had a part in carrying out the 1932 revolution.
Constitution Day is traditionally celebrated across Thailand by displaying and paying respect to portraits of Thai kings past and present; it is also common for government offices to be lit up and for civilian and military parades to take place. In the past, public seminars and exhibitions have been held by the government as part of efforts to educate Thais about the constitution, the workings of the country as a constitutional monarchy and to encourage active participation in the political process. A ceremonial procession takes place at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall in Dusit, where the equestrian statue of King Rama V is also the focal point of celebrations of Chulalongkorn Day. It was at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall that King Rama VII officially signed the first constitution back in 1932.
The ceremony has in recent years been attended by the current King Bhumibol, King Rama IX, who first pays respect to the statue of King Rama VII in front of the Thai parliament before travelling to the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall to pay respect to the Buddha image and witness holy chanting by fifteen Buddhist monks, representing the King, the President of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister and the twelve government ministers, as was the procedure at the very first celebration of Constitution Day.
In 2014 celebrations are likely to be muted, given that a new constitution has not yet been implemented since the most recent constitution from 2007 was suspended at the time of the military coup in May 2014.
Rama VII photo by Keson Bunnah; all other photos by Chris Wotton.