Civil Society and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in Thailand. History, Politics, and State-Society Relations

Master's Thesis, 2015

98 Pages, Grade: MA

Free online reading


List of illustration

Preface and Acknowledgments

1 Introduction

2 Conceptualizing Civil Society and NGOs in Thailand

3 History and Development of Thai NGOs

4 NGOs, Government, and Politics

5 Forward: The Thai Model, Semi-Civil Society?

Appendix 1 Intended and Unintended Consequences of the State Policy towards NGO sector

Appendix 2 Prime Ministers in Thailand




1 Framework for studying the existence of NGOs

2 The proliferation and fluctuation of organized civil society in Thailand

3 modes of Thai state-NGO relations


1 NGOs (Foundation and Association) and Other People Organizations Registration in Thailand

Civil Society and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in Thailand:

History, Politics, and State-Society Relations

In Thailand, organizations that work for public purpose and maintain their nonprofit/ nongovernmental status are far from being a mere recent phenomenon; they should not be regarded as a product of just the last few decades. They share the same history with philanthropic practices. Their progenitors can actually be traced back to the 19th Century when religious-based organizations were the key players of a community. However, they became popular and visible as ‘NGOs’ from the 1960s onwards. This study explores the ways and reasons in which NGOs developed throughout the history in Thailand. The growth of Thai NGOs heavily depend on government policies. NGOs had often been treated as threats towards the nation and the government. The situation got better from the 1990s. Many reasons are found to support the NGOization of civil society. Having a reciprocal and complex relationship with the state, Thai NGOs are not entirely independent from the state like those of Western society. Instead, the NGO-state in Thailand represents state-led civil society, if not ‘semi-civil society’.

Theerapat Ungsuchaval is a PhD Candidate in the School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research, University of Kent, England. He obtained his master degree in Civil Society, NGO, and Nonprofit Studies from University of Kent, and bachelor degree in Political Science from Thammasat University, Thailand. He occasionally teaches public policy studies and the third sector and civil society at universities in Thailand and has worked in a NGO community in Bangkok. His research interest is in the field of politics, sociology, and policy studies concerning governance and metagovernance, nongovernmental sector, civil society, and their relationships with the state.

Preface and Acknowledgments

This work is a revised version of my master dissertation titled “ NGOization and Civil Society in Thailand: A History and Development of Thai Nongovernmental Organizations ” submitted to the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, in 2015.

The study prescribes qualitative, ‘descriptive’ and ‘exploratory’, because it essentially asks what has been going on in the past and then analyze why and how. It treats Thai NGOs as single-unit case entity, which are mainly subjected to a 1930s - 2010s timeframe. In terms of data collection, this work is conceptual and literature-based which critically investigated existing academic and related materials. Hence, it is a document research, mainly using secondary data from various sources, mostly in Thai and English language. A wide range of literature and related papers such as government policies documents, news, existing researches, letters, and related NGO's documents were academically considered.

The case is analyzed inductively to generate the pattern and theory of NGOs development and its relation to the state. Essentially, it is read in two main ways: literal and interpretive (see Mason, 2002). For literal analysis, this study explores what was there or what has been going on in the time framed. For interpretive analysis, the information answered in the previous stage is analyzed to find the implications of what happened, namely to interpret that what does that mean. The general outcomes of this methodology can be concepts, categories, hypotheses, or theory, which eventually help to understand the civil society and NGOs in Thailand.

However, this work shows some limitations and considerations due to practical reasons. As being small-scale master-level dissertation, it cannot investigate in as deep-detail and reflect comprehensive as it should be. Even so, it is not impossible to contribute well-established understanding and organization of the subject. Moreover, given the scope of the study, current political and social situations will not dramatically affect the findings because what is mainly studied is already happened and ended. Nonetheless, it can partly impact the way researchers interpret the data and what the researcher will note for further study. Additionally, NGO is sometimes a politically sensitive issue in Thailand. Comprehensive and consistent official statistics in NGOs open to the public barely exist. With a few existing studies and sufficient data to built upon, as well as inability to conduct primary data which can generate fresh information, the research heavily relies on the secondary sources. There is a possibility that the information used in this work will be too old and not directly answer or relate to the questions. Nonetheless, it does not mean the result of this work cannot be new and original.1 Given the purpose the the work examining the phenomenon that already happened in the past, the information, in a certain degree, could be legitimated in its own right, and it is the responsibility of researcher who need to collect a ton of data from various sources to interpret it in a way of research designed. Hence, irrelevant data will be eliminated by research process automatically and systemically. It is possible in the context of qualitative data that this manner will allow the researcher to extract data that was not investigated by the primary examinations or that new interpretations may be feasible (Bryman, 2012, 586). Fairly speaking, this research will do second analysis of data with belief that “ new light can be shed on old data ” 2 (Ibid., 587).

It is important to note that this work is not intended to express an absolute conclusion about NGOs in Thailand as NGOs are so diverse. Moreover, it does not explain a whole picture of Thai civil society due to the fact that NGOs are a part, but important one, of civil society. Thai civil society consists of another actors such as people’s politics, community organizations, and social movements which are not the main interest of the research.

Finally, I am grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Jeremy Kendall, for his generous helps and advises along the time I had been in the master program and my family that is alway be there for me.

1. Introduction

Why does the study of history of NGO in Thailand matter now? James Baldwin’s (1985) moving passage suggests that history “ does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. [Instead,] the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do ” (p. 410). To understand the current Thai NGOs, their history and development are indeed important; the history of NGOs is present in all that NGO does.

History matters because NGOs, as political and societal institutions related to state and broader society (Ghosh, 2009), are shaped by history. A historical perspective on the institution is pivotal to make sense of contemporary NGO sector1 and the shifts and drifts of the sector as well as its institutional change (Pierson, 2000; Streeck and Thelen, 2005; Thelen, 2004; Elson, 2011a, 2011b). Historical investigation also gives evidence for questioning civil society’s persistent notion as a “ purely association-based, pre-political, apolitical, or even anti-political realm set apart or in opposition to the state ” (Lang, 2013, 35). Studying the history of Thai NGOs shows that NGOs actually are closely bound with the state. For thinkers such as Ferguson (1995), Hegal (1991), and Gramsci (1971), civil society is, whatever defined, juxtaposed to the state (Edwards and Foley, 2001). Its ‘alternative to or independent of the state’ version is not seen until the 1980s (Chandhoke, 2003). The relationship they have can be variously seen as it might commonly be supplemented, complemented, or contradicted (Young, 1999; Coston, 1998). That is why studying NGOs is related to the state or government policy.

Globally, NGOs have projected an increasingly strong presence everywhere. The growth of ‘nongovernmentalism’ (Lewis, 2007) and the proliferation of NGOs signifying an ‘associational revolution’ (Salamon, 1994; Edwards and Hulme, 1996; Fisher, 1993) in the 1980s have made NGOs matter. However, the body of contemporary research on NGOs is mostly keen on NGO roles and organizational characteristics, with less attention to theory and context (Lewis and Opoku-Mensah, 2006). This is the case in Thailand as well.

In Thailand, NGOs have been placed, regardless whether positively or negatively, as influential and crucial actors in politics and society at both national and local levels. Most literature about Thai civil society and NGOs arrived after the 1980s and increased in the last of the 1990s (Shigetomi, 2004a, 6) and focus more on NGOs roles, activities and their organizational attributes (Prompitak, 2009; Boonchai et al., 2013; Mungthanya, 2005; Sangiampongsa, 2003; Promgird, 2008), grassroots organization and community (Natsupa, 1991b, 1994; Phetprasert, 1999; Jamrik, 1998; Tabchumpon, 1998), and social and political movement (Missingham, 2003; Phatharathananinth, 2006; Charoensin-o-larn, 1999; 2002; Pintoptang, 1998; Kitirianglarp and Hewison, 2009). Unfortunately, few academic studies are conducted to illustrate the systematic development of NGOs (see Nitayarumphong and Mulada, 2001; Chiengthong, 2000; TDRI, 2000; SRI, 2003).

In fact, there is only one systematic research, published in 2003 by Social Research Institute, Chulalongkorn University with the help of John Hopkins University, which can be accounted for illustrating comprehensively a picture of historical development, characteristics, size, scope, structure, financial and legal status of Thai NGO sector (see SRI, 2003). However, that study focused mainly on research on national scale and uses the term 'public interest organizations' instead of NGOs, though they mean the same in the study. Even though it is extremely useful as a reference source, it did not give implications of the development of the sector. In addition, the study about the role of the state and government policies toward NGO sector receives much less attention than those policies towards the business sector (see Laothamatas, 1992; Siroros, 1995; Doner, 2009; Satitniramai, 2013). It is, thus, possible to address that the NGO sector have been terra incognita of the social science community in Thailand. What is needed is an examination guided by a particular question from a certain perspective. Consequently, this work would like to fill the gap that few people have researched, by exploring the history and development of Thai NGO sector.

The history and development of NGOs differ depending on a range of complex historical, cultural and political factors in particular context. NGOs manifest themselves in various ways in different nations. Carroll (1992) reasons that “ all NGOs operate within a contextual matrix derived from specific locational and historic circumstances that change over time ” (p.38). That is why the study of Thai NGOs’ history and development is still worth considering. Most literature about the history and origins of NGOs have been dominated by the Western contexts, which are just fragments of the whole story. This work would like to tell another part of the story happening in Thailand.

Therefore, this work aims to explore the history and development of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Thailand mainly from 1930s to the 2010s. In other words, it concerns the reasons and ways in which actors in/of civil society become organized, or more specifically ‘NGOized’, namely become more structured and organized — thereby, NGOs — and develop themselves over the history. This work is a conceptual and literature-based work analyzing existing academic and related materials.

Holding the standpoint that NGOs are not matter of things, but processes with development and history, this work is not interested in what an NGO is; it rather considers how ‘NGOization’ is done. Consequently, it endeavors to make sense of the history and development of Thai NGOs. The main areas of enquiry thus are: (1) Why have NGOs existed in Thailand?; (2) How did the Thai state develop its current NGO sector and how did NGOs originate and develop as organized civil society?; and (3) What does Thai civil society look like?

This work follows one of the analytical dimensions of civil society studies which believes that civil society is consistently defined vis-a-vis the state; the history and role of organized civil society as well as their positioning are formed by a dynamic relationship between state and civil society (see Purdue, 2007). Also, a kind of new-institutionalist analysis is implicitly applied. New-institutionalist approach directly connects civil society to systems of governance, contrasted with the dominant debate in the Western literature framed by Neo-Tocquevillianism which promotes a highly idealized version of civil society as community being independent of both the state and the market. New institutionalists say civil society exists in degrees (Boychuk, 2007, 202). It also concurs that states and governments are crucial factors for the development and operation of NGOs; “ transparent, interactive, and very public government-civil society relations ” are pivotal to a stronger civil society, not a stricter separation of them (Lang, 2013, 7). For developing countries like Thailand, Neo-Tocquevillianism is the ideal: new institutionalism is the reality (Powell, 2013, 10).

The development of NGOs in Thailand is not about their characteristics and missions alone, but it involves their relation with the state and government; it is an interactive process. Civil society (and NGOs) are understood as the result of an interaction between the state, government and society. NGOs are embedded in, and responding to specific configuration of systems. These institutional configurations dictate a set of political incentives and constraints, material and normative, which structure and influence the attributes and outcomes of their relationships (Ruffa and Vennesson, 2014, 583-584). The possible result of the approach is a historical pattern of interaction between state and NGOs within an institutional setting (see Rothstein and Trägårdh, 2007). In a way, this approach will study the incentive and constraints of NGOs produced by national institutional environments. The development and history of NGOs thus are something related to environment factors.

Given this, government policies and the postures of the Thai state apparently are critical, being structural preconditions which cause NGOs to change. Government policies are widely accepted as some of the most important structuring rules of institutional arrangement and as formal institutions shaping processes and outcomes (Esping-Andersen, 1990; Pierson, 1994; Skocpol, 1992).

2. Conceptualizing Civil Society and NGOs in Thailand

It is dangerous to take the terms ‘NGO' and 'civil society’ for granted, leaving them undefined, as they can mean many things; organizations labeled as NGOs in one society might be termed differently in another. Conceptualizing the terms is worth considered.

Civil Society: From the Western to Thai

Civil society is not an entirely new concept. However, over past decades, the significance of civil society has been increasingly acknowledged within academic and practitioners communities. It is a highly ambiguous and contested concept with no absolute agreement. The application of the term is ‘theory-laden’; for instance, it can be grasped from within the theoretical, practical, and historical contexts where they originated (Jensen, 2006). Its meaning always changes in reference to the rhetorical necessities of the day (Purdue, 2007).

Edwards (2014) suggests that civil society is often recognized in three important ways: as an adjective— a kind of society that is civil, as a noun—a part of society, an organization or a set of organizations, and as the public arena/sphere—a space that people or organizations gathered to communicate and perform collective action. For example, as an adjective, it hints a certain degree of mutual trust between people activities and relationships, which leads civil society to be noticed as underpinning the working of the emerging capitalist market by the Scottish thinkers of eighteenth century. Take Ferguson’s idea of civil society for instance, the concept indicates the people ability to deal with others in civil, nonviolent and polished, manners (Ferguson, 1995).

Later, civil society was discerned to strengthen and consolidate liberal democracy (Linz and Stepan, 1996; He, 2002). In 1830s, Tocqueville, for example, explored the feature of democracy in America and found that American people were interested in the right to free association and the presence of informal organizations, regarded as the heart of civil life and society of American culture (Edwards and Foley, 2001; Villa, 2006). Civil society thus represented an intricate social fabric containing a heterogeneous collection of organizations with a lively citizen participation.2 It was also used to depict the transition to liberal democracy of former communist nations since the 1990s (Walzer, 1995). Dominating the scholarship of civil society, this is the notion ‘as a noun’ which sees civil society as ‘associational life’. Whatever it is, civil society, nowadays, is commonly used to refer a sector of organizations, or a space located between the family and the state where institutions, organizations, and individuals associate together across ties of kinship, side from the market, and independent of the state to advance common interests (Anheier, 2014; Elliott, 2003).

Since the late 1970s, Thai thinkers have tried to give the differing definition of civil society in accordance with the context of the time (Kaewmanee and Phuttharaksa, 2007). Nonetheless, the term has become widespread in Thailand after the early 1990s with the certain middle-class protest in May 1992 (Chiengthong, 2000; Supawongse, 1997; Charoenmuang, 2009; Sapyen, 2004a). This emergence of the term in Thailand resembles the resurgence of the idea after the fall of socialist governments, the Berlin Wall, and the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.3

When the conceptions of civil society were imported into Thailand, it was adapted and created various reactions. It is recognized as a ‘strategic concept’ (Dhirathiti, 2003); its meaning depends on the ones who define it. In Thai language, it is commonly called ‘ pracha sangkhom ’ (literally means society that is civil). However, the prominent interpretation of civil society is seeing it as ‘a sector’ or set of organizations in society (Ungsuchaval, 2015). Therefore, the term is often confused and used interchangeably with ‘NGO’ (ongkorn pattana ekachon, literally translated as ‘ private development organization ’ 4 ) and ‘people's politics’ (Sawasdee and Others, 2014). In this sense, civil society for Thailand is regarded as a certain sector, which can traced back to the idea of ‘associational life’, not a kind of society. To put it more specifically, civil society, in Thai common tough, equates to NGOs. Nevertheless, according to many Thai civil society thinkers interviewed by Supawongse and Kardkarnklai (1998), civil society is actually interpreted into three major different perspectives. First, it is referred to power of active citizen sector and NGOs used for negotiating and counterbalancing the state. Second, it means collaboration society, vertically and horizontally. This includes the state, NGOs, and businesses and signifies the important of partnership. Third, it denotes the public sphere. This shows that civil society is used variously in Thai context; it can be understood as both a noun, an adjective, and as the sphere.

Alternatively, serious study of 14 Thai scholars and thinkers on civil society ideas by Sapyen (2004a, 2004b) indicates that there are four types of concepts of the Thai civil society thought, mainly considered the source of thinking as the defining factor of an idea: (1) religion- oriented, which mainly developed from Bhuddist concepts, (2) community-oriented, focused on the role and important of a community and divided into there sub-groups: cultural, economic, and holistic, (3) Western concept-oriented, which derived from Western ideas, and (4) experience oriented, which based ideas on practices and experience. This shows the diversity of Thai civil society thought and differing characteristics of Thai NGOs. For example, the first two approaches are focused more on rural area and community but the ‘religion-oriented’ is welcome to cooperate with the state while the ‘community-oriented’ prefers self-reliance. The ‘western concept-oriented’ regularly represented as social movements essentially opposes the state. The more complex is the ‘experience oriented’ that normally concretized as advocacy or issue-based NGOs operating within the city and in the rural spaces. It favors both cooperation and opposition depended on the situation.

From Civil Society to NGOs

Perceptions of civil society and its democratic mission, arguably derived from the traditions of democracy promotion and development practice (Cheema, 2010; Carothers, 1999), significantly led to the blossom of NGOs as leading agents of development and civil society (Bagci, 2003; Shigetomi, 2002a). As a theoretical concept rather than an empirical one, Lewis (2014) argues that civil society gives an analytical framework for grasping the institutional sphere in which NGOs function. Besides, as an intermediate layer between private life and institutionalized politics, civil society can mean the “ network of institutions through which groups in society in general represent themselves - both to each other and to the state ” (Shaw, 1994, 647). It is therefore the terrain of NGOs and social movements while NGOs appears to be civil society’s most important and defining actors (Lang, 2013). Additionally, some scholars have illustrated NGOs as being ‘facilitator’ (Warkentin, 2001, 4) or ‘harbingers’ (Minnix, 2007) of civil society. Chandhoke (2003) argues that where people demanded civil society, “ what they got instead were NGOs ” (p.9). The association in the form of NGO is the ‘spirit of civil society’ (Girling, 1996, 62) and played the most critical role in the evolution and function of civil society (Ma, 2006, 206). Similarly, for Theerayuth Boonme, a prominent Thai thinker, the appearance and institutionalization of NGOs is a big step towards civil society (see Supawongse and Kardkarnklai, 1998); NGOs are not equal civil society but one important agent of civil society.

By ‘NGO’, this work defines it with an ‘ideal-type’ perspective. Six characteristics is indicated here to describe Thai NGOs: private-nongovernmental, organized and institutionalized, non-profit-distributing, voluntary, altruistic, and philanthropic.5

The first four features, developed by Salamon and Anheier (1992; cf. Anheier, 2014), are commonly applied to study nonprofit organizations around the world. ‘Private-nongovernmental’ means that an NGO is institutionally separated from the apparatus and instrumentalities of government, but still able to be subsidized by the government. This also means an NGO must be self-governing, carrying power to control their activities to a significant extent. ‘Organized and institutionalized’ signifies an ongoing entity with an organizational form, disguise it from ad hoc or temporary gatherings. ‘Non-profit-distributing’ conveys the nonprofit attribute in which NGO is not primarily driven by commercial goals and any surplus revenue must not distributed to organization’s owners, members, and board. By ‘voluntary’, it means either non-compulsory in work and participation or engaging volunteers.

The later two features are specifically added for understanding NGOs in Thailand (see Shigetomi, 2004a). ‘Altruistic’ refers to an NGO’s immediate objective which runs for the benefit of others—thereby being ‘public-benefit organization’ (see Holloway, 2001, 13), while ‘philanthropic’ symbolizes the fundraising activities by an NGO itself due to inadequate payments from the recipients of its service, namely the socially and economically disadvantages and incapacity to make money due to ‘nonprofit’ image. These additions are needed (Shigetomi, 2004a) as (1) the provision of relief to the vulnerable people has been essential motivator for Thai NGOs’ emergence, distinguished them from organizations founded for certain common interests of local people or for ‘mutual-benefit’ (Holloway, 2001), and (2) Thai NGO does not include organizations such as hospitals and educational institutions which are parts of nonprofit institutions’ definition in the Western (see Salamon, 2012; Salamon et al., 1999). Moreover, the word ‘sector’ used here means an intellectually artificial construct, not an institutional reality (Kramer, 2004).

Why ‘NGO’, rather than another?

The label ‘NGO’ is chosen to retain in this work for reasons. ‘NGO’ converses more reality to this context and the theme of the work. Actually, many words are used to described an organization located between the state and the market in Thailand. ‘Nongovernmental organization’ (NGO), ‘public-interest nongovernmental organization’ (PINGO), ‘philanthropic organization’ , and ‘civil society organization’ (CSO) are the favorite ones, and interchangeably used. Also, the terms like ‘project’, ‘group’, ‘working group’, ‘unit’, and ‘forum’ are frequently said to label NGOs with no legal status (Salamon and Anheier, 1994). However, NGOs mostly represents organized civil society in Thailand6 ; NGOs are civil society which becomes organized, ‘NGOized’. Moreover, for developing countries, ‘NGO’ shows the professionalized character of organizations (Lewis, 2014, 54), addressed as an agency involved in development or relief task.

Nevertheless, this work recognizes that the term ‘NGO’ is problematic. ‘Nongovernmental’, like ‘nonprofit’, badge are criticized of laking precision as it details an organization by what it is not instead of by what it is (Lewis, 2014, 54). It is also considerably confused in both the literature and among policy makers even though many roads signposted ‘NGOs’ (Munck, 1992). Besides, a lot of acronyms are used for various type of NGO (see Najam, 1996). One of the confusion comes from that “ NGOs present different faces to different stakeholders ” (Hilhorst, 2003). Although the term is originally invented in the UN Charter in 1946, and became an international phenomenon (Ahmed and Potter, 2006; Lewis, 2014), it means and operates differently in differing countries.

3. History and Development of Thai NGOs

Actually, various ways can be used to study the history and development of NGOs. This work using significant social and political transformations and government policies together with distinct alternations within NGOs which cause major consequences argues that the history of Thai NGOs can be arguably categorized into 11 periods:

1) Premodern Period (Before 1932);
2) The Beginning of the Modern Period and the Siamese Revolution (1932-1956);
3) The Decade of State-led Development and the Student Uprising (1957-1973);
4) The Rise of Democracy (1973-1976);
5) The Stagnation of NGOs (1976-1979);
6) The Revival of NGOs (1980 - 1984);
7) The Blossom of NGOs (1985-1990);
8) The Fluctuation Before the Real Change (1991-1997);
9) The Year of Hope and Crisis (1997);
10) The Age of Diversity and Mass Politics (2000s Onwards);
11) The Beginning of Social Enterprises (2010s Onwards).

Premodern Period (Before 1932)

An organization which is nongovernmental and works for philanthropic purposes has existed for a very long time in Thai society. Philanthropic works were run by traditional Buddhist temples which served as community centers and by Catholic and Protestant missionaries that came from the West since 16th century. Religion built the foundations of philanthropy. Besides, in the early 1900s, there were Chinese societies which mutually provided assistance and protection to particular groups of people. They then evolved to perform philanthropic activities for needy people.

Domestically, traditional Buddhist temples philanthropically acted to provide social services to those in need, such as education and medication, and served as community centers. Religion built the foundations of philanthropy and embedded it into peoples everyday life as, for example, one is required to make merit through giving, seen as the first form of Thai philanthropy. Formal philanthropic organizations had not appeared yet. However, the role of the monasteries was decreased through centralization processes under the social and government reforms by King Rama V during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Many social services were transferred to the public sector. The reforms were for the modernization of Siam (previous name of Thailand) as a prevention to the Western expansionism.

Meanwhile, since 16th century, Catholic and Protestant missionaries came to run philanthropic woks. They represented themselves as a religious organization and worked for social welfare. In the late 1900s, foreign associations such as YMCA and Mckean Rehabilitation Center came to Thailand. They arguably were the first generation of ‘private voluntary organizations’ (Ondum, 1984) seen in Thailand.

Additionally, Chinese immigrants rapidly found many ‘secret societies’ or mutual help associations to provide assistance and protection to certain groups of people in the early 1900s. Later, they evolved to be speech-groups and have clan associations and performed philanthropic activities for needed people (see Skinner, 1957a, 1957b). These associations mainly helped Chinese minorities as Thai welfare system did not cover them. Nevertheless, some of them expanded their work to broader society. Tai Hong’s body collecting group found in 1909 (then registered as the official foundation and renamed as ‘Poh Teck Tung Foundation’ in 1937) is the good example. It is well-known for rescuing those who are injured in accidents, saving people’s lives, donating coffins, and conducting funerals for unclaimed corpses (see Tanprasoet, 2002).

The development of early Thai philanthropic agencies were shaped by ethnicity and religion, the two most visible factors affecting nonprofit sector’s growth (James, 1987). The supply-side theories suggest that social services might be supplied by people with an incentive to build an NGO to reach the demands. In this sense, the more extensive the level of religious competition, the bigger the NGO sector. The early history of NGOs tells the story of Buddhists, Christian missionaries, and Chinese ethnic groups who came to provide social services. Buddhism is relatively individualist and has a developing institution building orientation but inclined to accept a high level of integration with temporal authorities. It emphasizes less on charity and philanthropy than Christianity which moderately encourages the NGO’s formation. Therefore, Thailand does not have a developed and prominent NGO sector (Salamon and Anheier, 1997). Besides, Thailand, and the concept about ‘progress and civilization’ in particular, has always been influenced by the Western culture (Wilson, 2004, 16), although it was never officially colonized. Early philanthropic and voluntary activities proved to be a legacy of “ missionaries and soldiers, colonists and explorers, teachers and entrepreneurs ” (Hindle, 2007, 10). This helps to understand the foundation of Thai contemporary NGO sector.

Many associations also were established and sponsored by the king and royal associates (see Greene, 1971; Nitayarumphong and Mulada, 2001). The important change was in 1893 with the creation of ‘Sapa Unalom Daeng’ (now the ‘Thai Red Cross’) for giving care and medication to wounded soldiers. This organization is the first formally recognized Thai philanthropic organization. This time conceivably marked the emergence of the modern philanthropy from the traditional religious groups.

The first formal legal effort to manage and control the activities of NGOs was launched in 1925 with the introduction of the Civil and Commercial Code. It addressed the issue of registration, operation and termination of ‘foundation’ (mulanithi) and ‘association’ (s amakom) (two types of Thai NGOs). The law was a part of counter-measure to Chinese immigrants who were seen as a threat to economic security.

The Beginning of the Modern Period and the Siamese Revolution (1932-1956)

The revolution from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy and more democracy in 1932 by a small group of civilians and military called ‘Khana Ratsadon’ (Peoples' Party) marked radical changes in Thai society (see Mektrirat, 1990; 1992). This coup government allowed Thai citizens to form an party-like association (Charoensin-o-larn, 2011). There were two contrasting views on association; one believed in the capacity of the state while the other one favored the people (Sapyen, 2004a, 62). However, they agreed that the idea of association was the effective solution for solving social problems. This idea later became an important element of Thai civil society and development NGO.

On 8 November 1947, the military seized power by coup and installed a government which strongly respected the principles of ‘nation, religion and king’. These three elements were brought into confrontation with communist threat during and after World War II. Political and national stability was the main concern of the leader.

The Chinese community were seen as communist sympathizers. The National Cultural Act, enforced by the National Cultural Commission (NCC), was promulgated in 1942 to oversee and regulate foundation and associations. From mid 1950s, the crackdown on communist supporters and suppression of the Chinese were launched through hard and soft apparatuses. Thai government by the Ministry of Interior also introduced a series of laws and regulations concerning associations’ registration, establishment, and punishment. Most of them discriminated against foreign association, especially the Chinese. Only Buddhist philanthropic organizations were not closely restrained. The formation of associations by the elites kept continuing.

The Decade of State-led Development and the Student Uprising (1957-1973)

Westernization in economic and social development appeared in this period by the introduction of the first five-year ‘national economic development plan’. Later the social aspect was added—thereby, ‘National Economic and Social Development Plan’ (NESDP). The government, led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, focused on developing and modernizing society. The government welcomed international assistances and the U.S. development policy as a member of the ‘free world’ camp (Baker and Phongpaichit, 2014). The junta kept closely controlled NGOs due to the threat of communists who were harshly punished (Bunbongkarn, 2004).

Top-down industrial development strategies of the government created negative externalities such as the degradation of natural environment, the fall of agricultural sector and rural areas, and the downgrading of the quality of laborer. It eventually produced inequitable economic growth (Kelly et al., 2012) and severe conflict on natural environment between the state and the people (Pintobtang, 1998). The state intruded communities which affected the day to day life of the population. Consequently, many formed their own organizations and alternative development.

The 1960s witnessed an emergence of a new type of civil actors. First was the rapid formation of business association (see Laothamatas, 1992) due to the state-led development policies heavily pursued by encouraging the private sector as the key element of public development programs (Chaloemtiarana, 2007).

Second was the appearance of the reportedly first indigenous NGOs. In 1967, Puey Ungpakorn, dean of Thammsat University and a progressive bureaucrat, together with royalists and businessmen found the ‘Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction Movement Under Royal Patronage’ (TRRM) (see Leangchareon, 2000), modeled after the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (Clarke, 1998). TRRM marked the beginning of an indigenous movement based on development-oriented NGOs (Suwana-adth, 1991). The 14 principles of TRRM’s philosophy of work remains the norm of todays NGOs. They were “ approach people, stay with them, plan with them, work with them, begin from what they know, create from what they have. teach by making them learn from practice, not isolate but integrated, not to please but to help them change, and not to patronize but to empower ” (Suksawat, 1995, 56). Puey also found the ‘Graduate Volunteer Service’ project in Thammasat University in 1969 (later became ‘Graduate Volunteer Center’) to train students and send them to live with rural people in order to learn their problems and then help them. After graduating, these people will mostly be supplied to NGOs. These two organizations were reactions to the failure of government development programs. The government, for Puey, could not improve the quality of life of people by just improving economics; local and rural development was instead what made society better (see TRRM, 2002; Ungpakorn, 1995). Additionally, he prioritized the association of ordinary people for public benefit as the better way to deal with social problems and promote democracy. Since then, Puey’s ideas have become the base for social and rural development of the next generation of NGOs.

The UN Development Decade increased the role that international and volunteer organizations played in Thailand especially in the field of education, public health, and rural development (see Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997; Logerfo, 1997). They sent volunteers to help build domestic philanthropic practices. For instance, the World Association of Girl Guides Girl Scouts set up ‘Girl Guides Association of Thailand’ in 1958.

Further, there was a first sign of cooperation between the state and NGOs. Given the United Nations agencies accepted NGO affiliations, they encouraged the Thai government to put up national NGO-state committees on varied mutual interests (Judd, 1988; cf. SRI, 2003). The government facilitated the meeting of private organizations in 1959 which then brought about the ‘National Council on Social Welfare of Thailand’ (NCSWT) in 1960 to serve as a coordinating center on social welfare and social development among government and private organizations.

In sum, NGOs in 1960s with the lead of the state, domestic and international NGOs focused deeply on initiatives aimed at furthering national development. They started to shift from being ‘social welfare workers’ to ‘social development workers’ (Prompitak, 2009, 57). NGOs began to apply development- and advocacy-oriented approaches to provide service (Wan, 2013).

Nonetheless, the newly-formulated NGO sector at that moment did not have power enough to gain recognition from society. The progress in early civil society with critical consequences instead appeared in the universities (Gohlert, 1991; Prasartset, 1995). Student activists formed many informal parties to protest against the dictator government and promote democracy (see Kongkirati, 2012). This led to the student uprising on 14 October 1973 in Bangkok, resulting in the end of the ruling military dictatorship of Thanom Kittikachorn (see Bartak, 1993; Zimmerman, 1974; Kongkirati, 2012). It was the first time that a government had been changed by the popular masses outside the established power cliques (Zimmerman, 1974, 514). Thai civil society began to affect democratization process in Thailand (Pongsapich, 1999, 325).

The Rise of Democracy (1973-1976)

The student movement in 1973 made Thais become more active in political affairs. Numerous CSOs were established and managed by people with social development visions. Most of them were unregistered and actively functioned for the disadvantaged, calling for a more resource allocation to rural areas. NGOs commenced to exchange knowledge and experiences. As a result, new development approach which viewed people as the ‘subject’ of development, not the ‘object’ was launched (Janya, 2007; Thailand Environment Institute, 1996).

Cremation associations at local level and labour movements that vastly appeared since the previous period doubled their quantity after the 1973 movement. The government feared they would strengthen the communist movements. The 1974 Cremation Act and the 1975 Labour Relations Act were thus promulgated as told to govern society. Additionally, Ministry of Interior issued the association investigative committee in 1976 to examine the real reason of establishment and prevent associations to play a gamble (Boramanan, 1998).

International assistance from the 1970s has become more project-oriented. Volunteers were sent depending on specific projects. It also helped more with training NGOs’ staff and financial issues. Friendly attitudes towards foreign assistance, however, caused tension between the government and NGOs. The state suspected that NGOs were being penetrated by foreign bodies; NGO activities were seen to be initiated and sponsored from outside the country. Therefore, anti-foreigner policies were apparent with the fear concerning national security. This period proved to be a ‘watershed’ for NGOs (Gohlert, 1991, 101); political liberalization positively initiated the development of NGOs.

The Stagnation of NGOs (1976-1979)

The short period of democracy was ended by the bloody coup on 6 October 1976. The riot and ruthless suppression of the students protest by the government caused an exodus of students, intellectuals and laborers to the jungle to join, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) (Wedel and Wedel, 1987). Communist ideals successfully spread around the region (Mallet, 1978) and was seen as an alternative solution to development and the status quo (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997, 33; Bowie, 1997, 137). This was a uncommonly low period for development of activities of NGOs as they were harshly limited and suppressed by the government. Terrorist groups such as the ‘Red Gaurs’ and the ‘Village Scouts’ were erected by conservative-wing to parry the development of popular movements (Girling, 1981).

NGO activities came to a standstill. Numerous NGOs were accused of being communist sympathizers, ‘Chinese’ or ‘unThai’, and threatened, framed, and trespassed by the dictators. For instance, workers of the Foundation of Education for Life and Society, initiated in 1971 for educating underprivileged people in rural areas, were fatally intimidated because they opposed the development policy of the government (Tieawsatul, 1996). However, those that run by elites and religious-based NGOs were not much affected (Nitayarumphong and Mulada, 2001).

By the late of 1970s, several international relief organizations came to work in refugee camps along the eastern border of Thailand; enormous numbers of financial and technical assistance from foreign organizations flowed into Thailand (Simpkins, 2003; TDRI, 2000). Flow of money has risen sharply from 1970s to the mid of 1990s (see Lertchoosakul, 2012, 172).

The Revival of NGOs (1980 - 1984)

The communist-led insurgency ended at the beginning of 1980s with the implementation of the Prime Ministerial Order No.66/2523(1980), issued by the general Prem Tinsulanonda, which officially prioritized political means over military actions. The government voided the suppression order on the communist supporters and enacted an amnesty law for those who participated in the CPT. This order also stated the elimination of social and economic injustices, promotion of political participation and democratic institutions and movements as well as assurance of political freedom. The policy visibly was built to defeat communism by using democratic means, known as a ‘military-initiated liberalization’ (Bunbongkarn, 2004).

Consequently, activists and students, who previously joined the CPT, returned home and resumed their normal lives. Many ex-student activists joined NGOs involved in community development while some went back to universities. The seeds of civil society with noteworthy agents engaging with the social issues had been planted since then (Taveekan, 2013). Thenceforth, Thailand went to a more liberal society. The state in general relatively intervened less in NGOs. It was the beginning of modern civil society in Thailand (Baker and Phongpaichit, 2014).

Old NGOs, especially the unregistered ones, revived and improved their activities whereas the new ones, either small locally oriented NGOs or formed by the middle-class increasingly became visible (Goldschmidt and Boonyarattanasoontorn, 1992; Prasartset, 1995). Their interest expanded from just rural areas to include urban spaces as the process of urbanization created more complex social and environmental problems. The number of NGOs had dramatically risen (see SRI, 2003).

It is noted that some organizations erected as a result of the order especially in rural areas were to support of the government’s insurgency suppression plan. The Thai National Defense Volunteers and Volunteer Development and Self-Defense villages, for instance, were claimed by the military as voluntary organizations set up to mobilize and train villagers a democratic principle (Bunbongkarn, 1987). The state used the order to delegitimize other organizations who were not on the government side (Chomsinsubmun, 2012).

The situation of NGOs in 1980 was not good in terms of management. Most NGOs lacked of full-time employers and sufficient budget which led to inefficiency of operation. Thus, ’Volunteer Service Project’ was initiated by many NGOs to be a supportive organization for NGOs including training volunteer and personnel for NGOs (see Leangchareon, 2000). The project later became ‘Thai Volunteer Service Foundation’ in 1986.

In 1981, the Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) consulted with a small number of non-state organization including NGOs to formulate the 5th National Economic and Social Development Plan. It was another effort of the government to build relationship with the NGOs. Besides, the national NGO conference on development strategies raised an NGO-state relations issue, which resulted in two considerable demands: a policy and strategy joint government-NGO committee and governmental in-kind supports. The proposals were submitted to the Ministry of Interior. Subsequently, follow-up seminars and the second national NGO conference in 1983 with the participants form governmental agencies were run. The result was the agreement to form the committee (Tongsawate and Tips, 1985). The increasing problem about rural development attracted the state and forced it to cooperate with NGOs. In 1984, an ad hoc government-NGO committee was set for the Village Development Fund Project. NGOs became more visible to government agencies and adopt a network approach to work and slightly became a mechanism for political transformation. However, a serious NGOcoordinating committee did not form until 1985.

The 5th plan began to promote self-reliance and public participation as development strategies. During this time, NGOs at grassroots level positively grew and befriended with the communities and the government. This period made NGOs more visible to government agencies. NGOs began to adopt a network approach to work and slightly became a mechanism for political transformation.

The Blossom of NGOs (1985-1990)

The government had increased an interest in NGOs. The first official recognition of NGOs by the government reflected in the section on promotion of local bodies in rural development in the 6th NESDP (1986-1990). One strategy of the plan was encouraging the role of people’s organizations and the general public to solve their problems, increasing self-reliance (NESDB, 1987). The plan requested the need to associate the NGOs, regionally and nationally, to make them become more visible to the public and easier to contact. In 1985, ‘NGO Coordinating Committee on Rural Development’ (NGO-CORD) was found by the support of the National Coordinating Center for Rural Development.7 The term ‘rural’ was later removed because the members had agreed to expand their scope of business to cover all types of NGO activity—thereby, ‘NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD)’. This change significantly contributed to the popularity of ‘NGO’ label to cover even ones which did not work for development. This organization bridged NGOs and government agencies at all levels including a mechanism for common strategy in social development.

The increasing cooperation expanded to affect local and international NGOs too. The increasing cooperation expanded to affect local and international NGOs too. ‘Local Development Institute’ (LDI) was initiated in 1991 to link multi-level organizations. LDI’s focus was heavily on the local and community area as well as national NGO networking (see Leangchareon, 2000; Connors, 2005). In fact, LDI was derived from ‘Local Development Assistance Program’ (LDAP) which academically and financially supported NGOs between 1985-1989 funded by the Canadian International Development Agency. The project covered activities across the country and positively affected the NGO development. Arguably, many core NGOs which operated actively that time were past or present members of the program family (Gohlert, 1991; Goldschmidt and Boonyarattanasoontorn, 1992).

Also, large organizations in the 1970s which constituted NGO community were replaced by newly-emerged small unregistered middle-class NGOs; most of them were environmental NGOs (Taveekan, 2013; Janya, 2007; Prompitak, 2009). NGO’s mode of work clearly became issue-oriented with networking strategy, complicating means of operation. ‘Community culture’ was emerged and widely adopted by NGOs as a main strand of alternative development approach (see Natsupa, 1991a, 2004; Cheangsan, 2013; Rakyutidharm, 2011; Suthinarakorn and Traimongkolkul, 2002). This approach suggested to rely on subsistence economy, returning to self-reliance as communities had their own culture and way of development. In other words, ‘the answer is in the village’. However, it was opposed by another one which caused conflicts among NGOs and divided them into two parties; ‘hot’ and ‘cool’. In fact, the mid 1980s NGOs had begun to show sign of contradictions among NGO workers. First was the different label of NGO activists. Second was the approach towards strategy of work.

NGO members consisted of more than moderate activists. After the collapse of CPT, many radical groups returned form the jungle and joined NGOs. These radical NGO activists, together with the emerging conflicts over natural resources in rural areas, significantly transformed the development of NGOs since then. The radicals denied the centralized organization and the strategy of the late 1970s and then searched for a new one (Callahan, 1998). Non-political engagement strategy was gradually replaced by radical tactic of mass mobilization in the late 1980s and 1990s. They preferred to work greater closely with the increasing grassroots movements (Phongpaichit and Baker, 1997b). From this point, NGOs split into two parties; the ‘cool’ party who employed the ‘old’ strategy held in 1970s and the ‘hot’ one who mainly involved in political mobilization (Phatharathananunth, 2006) and mostly based at rural areas (Sanitsuda, 1994). The relationship between both parties was not static; they accepted and rejected each other at some points which related to the changing approached of work (Phatharathananunth, 2006, 61).

There was also an immense debate between the ‘community culture’ and the ‘political economy’ as approach of movement. This is particularly the case among north-eastern NGOs (see Phatharathananunth, 2006). The former, became popular in 1980s, was focused on long and gradual progress based on ‘consciousness-raising’ whilst the latter, gained currency in 1970s and 1990s onwards stressed on ‘social transformation’ and just society by revolution.

The ‘community culture’ called for the return to traditional community as capitalism was evil (Natsupa, 1991a). Thai economic development imported from the West destroyed the economy of villages. Its suggestion was to withdraw from the market economy and instead relied on subsistence economy, returning to self-reliance as communities had their own culture and way of development. In other words, ‘the answer is in the village’. This approach was a kind of ‘antimodernism’ (Kitahara, 1996, 78). Additionally, communities need help from outsiders, NGOs and other development workers, to recover forgotten cultural consciousness (Natsupa, 1991a, 139). NGOs were required to act the role of outsider in consciousness-raising—thereby, catalyst and facilitators (Thailand Environment Institute, 1996).

The ‘political economy’, on the other hand, rejected solution of the community culture. Self-reliance was practically impossible. Complex problems could not be solved just in the village level. Living with the capitalism by using bigger bargaining power through mass mobilization and political organization was its suggestion. Policy advocacy and social movement became the major strategy of NGO since the 1990s. However, for the community culture, organizing protest was alien as it belonged to Western culture (Tabchumpon and Sapsomboon, 1999, 101). These two approaches are always seen in NGO’s practice today.

Nowadays, majority of Thai NGOs typically are small-scale and grassroots-oriented as they are originally created for working in rural development, applying the approach of public participation and self-reliance (Prompitak, 2009). Being small, Thai NGOs tend to join in bigger networks, councils, coordinating bodies, or umbrella organizations. Basically, Thai NGOs can be divided into two groups according to their establishment. The first group is initiated, managed, and staffed by experienced field workers in NGO communities. It tends to work in communities and rural areas, collaborating with local people and organizations. The second group is more professional as it normally is created and run by professional working full-time. It typically bases in Bangkok and significantly operates in area of founders’ expertise.

These two groups usually cooperate with each other. However, conflicts might appear. The common case is the disagreement between urban NGOs and rural NGOs. Sometimes, rural NGOs feel that the urban ones are not well-functioning as civil society actors. One possible reason is urban society shows the lower rate of involvement in civil society (Albritton and Bureekul, 2002; Laothamatas, 1996). Thailand possibly suggests a ‘tale of two civil society’; one is in the urban, another one is in the rural. Another division of Thai civil society can also be seen in terms of their belonging as there are elites’ civil society and people’ civil society (Albritton and Bureekul, 2002). Conflicting perceptions of civil society and development strategies are evident in the two different approaches, the community culture and the political economy (Phatharathananunth, 2006).

In 1988, the elected government arrived after the decade of ‘semi-democracy’, a form of parliamentary rule dominated by the military (Phatharathananunth, 2006, 58; cf. Neher, 1988; Samudavanija, 2002). The new government led by General Chatchai Chunhawan turned Indochina ‘from a battlefield into a marketplace’ (Szalontai, 2011), causing considerable economic expansion. The policy challenged the traditional unelected power of military elites and led the way for CSOs to grow. At the end of 1980s, NGOs were seen as legitimate and indispensable actor in public affairs; they had won a place in state development policy-making as the NESDB, for example, made it clear that the government would seek help from NGOs for its development (Laothamatas, 1991).

The Fluctuation Before the Real Change (1991-1997)

This liberal time did not last long. The ‘National Peace Keeping Council’ (NPKC) deposed of the corrupt Chatchai and his ‘buffet cabinet’ by coup in 1991 (Phongpaichit and Baker, 1997a). The military returned to power this time differed as it installed former diplomat, Anand Panyarachun, who later became an active player initiating economic and political reforms, as the prime minister (PM). The new government consisted of technocrats and did amend laws and regulations which indirectly increased the space of NGOs in society, in particular those working for environment. The 1992 version of Civil and Commercial Code was a product of the effort. Policies to loosen control over NGOs sector were taken into account.

The 7th NESDP (1992-1996) and its formation highly recognized the NGO participation. It promoted the role of NGOs under many sections and influenced the government to allocate funds for NGO through the NCC. It was quite obvious that 1990s NGOs played a substantial role in national social development and gained positive image. Local NGOs continued to grow with the support of Thai and international bodies. Highland NGOs were a good example of this time (see McKinnon, 2011). The 1990s NGOs were described as regionalization phase featured with NGOs’ networks and networking organizations (Wan, 2013). NGO initiated by business organizations increasingly appeared as they were expected to have social responsibility (Nitayarumphong and Mulada, 2001, 95).

The atmosphere of improved NGO-government relations was quite good in 1991; the government had clear visions to promote NGOs (see Farrington et al., 1993). Nevertheless, the military then returned to power as Suchinda Kraprayoon, a leader of NPKC, was designated as the new PM. In April 1992, large protests were launched against the junta in Bangkok. The event culminated in May, known as ‘1992 Black May’, in which anti-government movement consisted of up to hundred thousands of students, NGO activists, and ordinary people marched against the government. The event ended with many casualties and intervention of the King.

This movement was counted to spotted a burgeoning of modern civil society (McCargo, 2004; Connors, 2002). It was the first time that a rising new middle-class (Laothamatas, 1991; Dhiravegin, 1990; Suwannaruang, 2006; Yoshifumi, 2008) and people’s organizations participated in a movement for political purpose and expressed their will, proving the power of NGOs in transforming politics. The event prompted the creation of working committees and networking of NGOs, especially those working in politics. Then, NGOs and other people’s organizations consistently created momentum, resulted in the call for a new constitution.

The 1990s marked an ‘era of NGO-based civil society’ (McKinnon, 2011). Thai civil society originated to consist of a extensive range of NGOs dealing with a broad range of social issues. The proliferation of NGOs so far allowed the beginning of political structure where NGOs can comment on government policy and launched public protest and campaign as means of influencing the state.

The Year of Hope and Crisis (1997)

The 1997 Constitution

The announcement of the 8th NESDP (1997-2001) together with the democratization movement in the Asian countries permitted the government to increasingly recognize the role of development of NGOs. The government seems to cooperate with NGOs more than in the past decades. The 8th plan was evident for the changing attitude of the state towards NGOs as it addressed the important of public and NGOs participation (Tieawsatul, 1996).

NGOs, communities, intellectuals and media were becoming strong. They demanded the amendment of the 1991 military constitution. In June 1994, the Committee of Democracy Development of the House of Representatives was established. Chaired by Prawes Wasi, a prominent civil society thinker, the committee emphasized the value of public participation and civil society building and successfully invited NGOs and people to involve in the Constitution drafting process (Nitayarumphong and Mulada, 2001; Tabchumpon and Dhitthapichai, 2002). The promulgation of 1997 constitution marked the critical transformation to more democratic society; it came from widely engagements of civil society—thereby, ‘People’s Constitution’. This constitution encouraged unexampled public participation, decentralization and human rights. Essentially, it made ‘institutional civil society’ in which NGOs can participate more in policy process rather than keeping protest on the street. The case of the ‘Community Forestry Bill’ exemplifies the extent to which NGOs can spend time more than a decade to influence the formal legislation of community rights (see Brenner et al., 1999; Johnson and Forsyth, 2002). Public space for NGOs has dramatically increased with an initiation of several alternative NGO’s media such as ‘’ and ‘ Prachatham ’ (PNN news) (Warunpitikul and Reongjit, 2010).

NGOs transformed into more advocate organizations and movements. They watched the government policies and then voiced their worries when they found them suspicious. Moreover, there was an increase of people’s association in rural areas. The 99 days demonstration in 1997 of the ‘Assembly of the Poor’ (AOP) , an organized movement giving voices to villagers and marginalized people, was the good case (see Pintoptaeng, 1998; Baker, 2000; Missingham, 2003a, 2003b). It made the corruption, inefficiency, and unaccountability of the governments became visible and succeeded in gaining promises from the government to tackle many of their concerns (see Chalermsripinyorat, 2004). As a social movement, it allied with NGOs and consisted of NGO activists. NGOs played indispensable roles in giving information and support, keeping and coordinating the network of other organizations in the AOP, negotiating with the state, and communicating with the public (Prompitak, 2009). Its operation was regarded as the first major assertion of a rural voice since the suppression decades earlier, resulting in the enlargement of civil society from an urban base (Baker, 2000) and being “ one of the leading movements in the struggle to strengthen civil society ” (Prasatset, 1997, 97).8

The situation of NGOs after 1997 was more liberalized. Whether the NGOs are co-opted or operate in opposition to the government, state-NGO synergy was actively provoked, in part, via the process of decentralization (Balassiano and Pandi, 2013). Tasks that were once government’s responsibility has been transferred to NGOs and other non-state actors to either implement or supplement government functions. As a result, CSOs have been empowered to deliver public services, both locally and nationally, by the changing Thai state (see Balassiano, 2010; TU-RAC, 2012).

The 1997 Economic Crisis

This favorable milieu for NGOs changed after the 1997 Asian economic crisis with a deep economic contraction, interrupting 40-year of continuous growth. Thailand needed to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and then was compelled to accept a series of drastic economic reforms so-called a ‘structural adjustment package’ (see Warr, 2005; Baker and Phongpaichit, 2014). Although the packages did provide an opportunity to reform the socio-economic structure and public sector governance (see Luangprapat, 2008), they were widely criticized from various groups as the government allowed the national sovereignty to be in the hand of market mechanism and the others (Prasertkul, 2009). The policies also had disastrous outcomes for the poor (see Hewison, 2002). NGOs and people’s organizations assembled together to against the policies which resulted in the emergence of many social movement organizations (Kitirianglarp and Hewison, 2009; Hewison, 2000). This marked the beginning of the civil society movement under the new constitution.

The Chuan Leekpai’s government adopted an apparently antagonistic approach toward NGOs, accusing that protestors were being provoked, if not brainwashed, by ill-intentioned ‘third-hand’ or ‘foreign-infiltrated’ NGOs (Sattayanurak, 2006). The was convenient for the government as when the government did something wrong, they could blame the third-hand. Besides, AOP and NGO workers were tainted by a corruption scandal in which the government blamed that they accepted bribes for getting villagers registered to receive compensations, demanded by the AOP (Chalermsripinyorat, 2004).

Chuan’s personality and worldview did not allow any non-bureaucratic mechanism to perform in political arena. The government permitted the use of violence against protestors because they created chaotic and obstructed national development (Sattayanurak, 1995; Hongthong, 1995). In this sense, the government brought Thai society back to the military era where NGOs were seen as national threats. Bureaucracy became superb. NGO activists and people were arrested daily (Pintobtang, 1998). Furthermore, the government enacted more restrictive foreign funding regulations and extraordinarily enforced them on NGOs in 2000; NGOs must report sources of revenue (Dupuy et al., 2014). Not only did Chuan ignore the demands of protestors, he also revoked the agreement and compensation the former government had with the AOP and NGOs. The government claimed that its attention was focused overwhelmingly on how to solve the economic crisis (Sattayanurak, 2006, 211).

The crisis, moreover, affected NGOs in terms of funding as most of the budget had relied on foreign funds so far (Poungsomlee et al., 2002; Kulkakornsakul, 1999). Although some NGOs reported that they did not get heavy effects because some foreign funds postponed their abolishment of aid due to the crisis (see Wijakprasert, 2000), the budget problem still be the critical issue among NGOs.

The doctrine of ‘sufficiency economy’, invented by the king, together with ‘localism’ were strongly encouraged and echoed by community culture NGOs to resist financial crisis and globalization and moderated people (Connors, 2005; Kelly et al., 2012; Elinoff, 2014). NGOs were highly championed about ‘partnership’ with the state by ‘elite civil society thinkers’ (see Phatharathananunth, 2006; Rakyutidharm, 2011). Consequently, the state was intensively included to be an important element of civil society. Controversy exploded among NGOs; they have intensified their critiques towards each other (Chiengthong, 2000, 52). The public has begun to be skeptical towards NGOs too.

The Age of Diversity and Mass Politics (2000s Onwards)

The Rise of Domestic Funds

In the mid of 1990s, progress in economic and political development significantly reduced the perceived need for foreign organizations and donors (Parks, 2008; Thabchumpon, 2011; CIVICUS, 2015). This brought about the shrinking of donor funding for NGOs (Chutima, 2004; Shigetomi, 2004a). However, Thailand managed to create alternative funds within the country. New types of state organizations and charitable foundations emerged as important new sources of funding. Several NGOs began to domestically fundraise, though it was not easy. The shift from foreign to domestic funding has taken less than two decades, relatively well-adapted compared to neighbor nations (Parks, 2008). Nowadays, few NGOs receive foreign funds while maintain their active and influential roles. Domestic funds and the government have became the major funds of NGOs (Rakyutidharm, 2014a; Shigetomi, 2004a).

Actually, most of government subsidy for NGOs before 2000s was little (see SRI, 2003). Even though some governmental agencies did set up funds to aid NGOs, they covered just a particular sector. Two important funds were the ‘Rural Development Fund’ (RDF) and the ‘Urban Community Development Fund’ (UCDO). The closer relationship between the state and NGOs in terms of funding began in the very late of 1990s as the government, by borrowing loans from the World Bank and other institutions (Bunyaratanasunthon, 2000), instigated ‘Social Investment Fund’ (SIF) to assist NGOs for responding and restoring the economic crisis (Shigetomi, 2006; Pongsapich, 2000). SIF was the first occasion that the government channeled funds directly to NGOs (Pongsapich, 1999). It mainly managed by NGOs (Shigetomi, 2006).

After the public hearings for the eighth National Development Plan which demanded a national finance institution to help local organizations (Department of Rural Development Coordination, 1997), the ‘Community Organization Development Institution’ (CODI) was established in 1998 by merging the RDF and the UCDO. However, CODI began to operate completely in late 2001. The financial support for NGOs and other people’s organizations became more institutionalized (Shigetomi, 2006).

NGOs did not totally welcomed governmental fund as many of them rejected the assistances because they were skeptical about true motive of the state (Delcore, 2003). The Government tend to provide grants to non-political NGOs which potentially decreased the advocacy role of NGOs. Nonetheless, this was not the end of Thai civil society as there were many cases that proved although NGO received fund from the government, they still protested against the government (see Parks, 2008).

Another important change was the establishment of a huge fund named ‘Thai Health Promotion Foundation’ (THPF) in 2001. THPF is an autonomous state agency operating outside the formal structure of government and obtains money from two percent of ‘sin taxes’. It is arguably the product of elite NGOs and progressive bureaucrats, particularly in the field of public health (Ungsuchaval, 2014b) and chiefly administrated by NGO activists or sympathizers. THPF provided more than 1,000 million baht to promote numerous projects of NGOs (see THPF, 2011)— thereby, the biggest fund for CSOs (Chutima, 2004). This fund is also used to strengthen civil society by stressing community-based development and self-reliance. It has also played a crucial role in shaping NGO strategies. NGOs which got money from THPF must follow THPF’ administrative system and project advice. However, THPF invited NGOs to share opinion, collaborate in planning, joint activities, and support each other to reach mutual goal. NGOs and the state have, to some extent, become ‘partnership’ as THPF referred to grantees as ‘partners’ or ‘owner of the issues’ while positioned itself as ‘supporter’ (Rakyutidharm, 2014a). The idea of ‘network’ or ‘alliance’ was popularly used to explain the relationship between NGOs and THPF. It was the fist time that NGOs were drawn to fully operate with the state with their own missions.

Populist Politics and Philanthropic Protectionism

The situation of NGOs considerably changed from 2001 by the time of the elected government led by Thaksin Shinawatra and his party ‘Thai Rak Thai’ (TRT), an society of Bangkok businessmen from various sectors and some provincial political godfathers (McCargo and Pathamanund, 2005; Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009). This government’s success came from populist policies which, for the poor, were powerfully attractive. The policies were essentially formulated by the help of NGO networks (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2002; Kitirianglarp and Hewison, 2009). However, the populist policies later were criticized as a degenerative policy in which NGOs should carefully monitor. Several policy-watch NGOs had emerged (Junya, 2007).

Given the numerous protests since 1990 (see Pintobtang, 1998), Thaksin tried to capitalize on the situation by allying with NGOs and activists. Before the election, he met the AOP’s leaders and promised them a good response if he became the PM (Connors, 2005). Unsurprisingly, NGOs and people widely supported him (Simpson, 2005; Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009). In the very early of his position, Thaksin created himself as a distinctive politician who provided positive environment for NGOs (Phatharathananunth, 2006; Simpson, 2005). However, that was a tactic to later suppress protests and the NGOs. He began to gradually change his policy towards the NGOs.

The government treated the country as a company, chaired by Thaksin (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009). Although the government’s business-like management style brought a new hope and change, it conceivably deteriorated civil rights and liberties as well as eroded the rule of law (Hewison, 2010; Kapstein and Converse, 2008; Pathmanad, 2008; The Economist, 2008). For Thaksin, societal actors should be subordinated to a business ‘vision’ plotted by CEO leadership and public participation must limited to ‘consumption’ mode (McCargo and Pathamanund, 2005, 14). In addition, Thaksin’s character made public space and conversation between the state and civil society impossible; contrasted opinions were frequently replied with aggressive and intimidatory speeches (Prasertkul, 2009).

Thaksin labelled NGOs as organizations working for foreigners to subvert domestic development and creating conflicts (Ibid.). The government cling the nationalist idea to criticize NGOs as dishonest recipients of foreign funding. For Thaksin, NGOs were “ just people looking to make a name for themselves with no purpose ” (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009, 148). Thaksin tried to ‘negotiate’ with foreign sponsors of Thai NGOs to withdraw their aids (Ibid., 144). The government suspiciously checked account of NGO activists; NGOs were strictly audited monthly concerning their activities and finances. Those who refused to comply were defamed and suppressed. This was the period of full ‘philanthropic protectionism’. Further, the government discredited NGOs by linking them to organized crime by operating heavy-handed investigations towards leading Thai NGO workers and foreign assistants through the Anti Money Laundering Office (AMLO) (Ibid., 145). Thaksin managed to influenced the Upper House to issue a committee to scrutinize NGOs and attempted to established a new law to control NGOs’ activities by naming them ‘undesired’ or ‘useless’ NGOs aiming to create conflicts. (see The Secretariat of the Senate, 2003).

NGO roles for intermediaries were no longer needed for the government as the populist policies have already made the direct relationship between the government and the people (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2008, 69) by giving a direct fund to and empowered community, resulted in the strengthening of community organizations (village civil society or Prachakhom) over the country (see Sritanyarat, 2008) and active rural citizens. The policies reduced intermediary role of NGOs, forsaking the conventional mechanisms and NGOs to work in rural area. Besides, Committees for solving problems demanded by AOP and many NGOs were abolished in 2004. When the NGOs lost their power, individuals were forced to directly contact with the government without the help of any NGOs (Prasertkul, 2009, 180). Splitting NGOs from their base did reduce the important of NGOs while increase the worthy of the government; the government managed to totally occupy the space that used to be NGOs’. Somkiat Pongpaiboon, an activist for the poor, complained that people movements and NGOs went to face the dilemma that they needed to choose between remaining self-reliance without contacting with the state or uprising against the state (cited in Ibid., 181). Civil society became ‘superfluous’ for the state (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009, 147).

Moreover, the use of force to repress and arrest protestors was routinely seen. Anti- government activists were continually assassinated by non-uniformed assassins (see Prasertkul, 2009; Asian Center for Human Rights, 2004). The cases then obviously signified an involvement of local authorities; unfortunately, the government, declared Amnesty International (2003), did not provide adequate protection to the activists nor conduct a proper investigation (cf. Simpson, 2005; Phatharathananunth, 2006). The situation became much worst during the event of the Pak Moon Dam and the Trans Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline project (see Simpson, 2005; Phatharathananunth, 2006; Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009). This was the age that activists have been ‘killed, attacked, sent death threats, intimidated, placed under surveillance, arrested and detained by the police, and had civil and criminal court cases filed against them’ (Asian Center for Human Rights, 2004). NGOs were subject to trivial bureaucratic intimidation. They were finally portrayed by the government as evil anarchists, ‘enemies of the state’ (Janchitfah, 2003). Strong legal methods to control NGO movements were implemented. The 2003 anti-terrorist law was defined further to cover most dissent as a tactic to suppress the opposition. Hence, the government did created ‘systemic violence’ against NGOs and climate of fear.

Critiques towards NGOs by the government eventually undermined public support for NGOs (Simpson, 2005). Some media began to blame NGOs for preventing national interests and using violence (Shigetomi, 2004a; EGAT, 2000). Some groups were created to disseminate antiNGOs ideas (Tansathit, 2003).

Thaksin’s regime was sensed as being increasingly authoritarian (Norton, 2012; Pongsudhirak, 2008; Connors, 2008a), creating ‘democratic authoritarianism’ (see Bowornwathana, 2004, 2005; Pongsudhirak, 2003; Satha-Anand, 2004). Besides, Thaksin was criticized to adopted the practice of vote buying and introduced ‘big money politics’ (Phongpaichit and Baker, 2009). Corruption scandals and court cases were frequently seen. The victory of TRT indicated the downfall of the spirit of the 1997 Constitution as the matter of the constitution was to separate money form politics and strengthening civil society and public participation (Phatharathananunth, 2006, 219). Civil society were suppressed, obstructed, and framed; the media was manipulated; and the constitution was corrupted (Winichakul, 2008; Ufen, 2008; Phongpaichit and Baker, 2005; Pintobtang, 2004). These together caused the disillusionment of NGOs (Connors, 2008b).

The Mass Movements and Political Turmoils

Since 2006, new era of social movement emerged with the appearance of the ‘People's Alliance for Democracy’ (PAD) or ‘yellow-shirted’ movement. It was originally a coalition of protesters against Thaksin. PAD consisted of many NGOs and NGO activists became leaders of PAD (Ungpakorn, 2010; Kitirianglarp and Hewison, 2009). Originally, many NGOs that had already protested the government held skeptical view towards PAD. Nevertheless, once being invited, most NGOs accepted the PAD in principle and hoped to use the movement for reaching their own agenda (Thongporn, 2007, 204).

PAD showed ‘new’ attributes as a social movement. It expanded and developed strategies from just mass movement to cover academic conferences and public relations (Eawsakul, 2007, 297). It also owned and used the media as a tools against the government, becoming somewhat like ‘reality TV’ (McCargo, 2009). Even so, PAD preferred a direct confrontation rather than negotiation by occupying the Government House as a protest site, closing off the Parliament, and seizing the airport (Charoensin-o-larn, 2011). Moreover, discourses about ‘nation, religion and king’, ‘communitarianism’, and ‘clean politics’ were revised or invented to discredited the government’s ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘populism’, and ‘money politics’ (Kitirianglarp and Hewison, 2009; Eawsakul, 2007). ‘Sufficiency economy’ was stressed and politically and economically positioned as the opposite of Thaksin’s policies, ‘Thaksinomics’ (Rakyutidharm, 2011).

Being a coalition between heterogeneous groups, PAD, consequently, led the way to wide debates on civil society community as it represented the middle-class and elite movement instead of the grassroots one (see Wangkulam, 2010), illustrating when NGOs worked together with the conservatives and the royalists (Pye and Schaffar, 2008). By the early 2006, a “ massive and sustained protest movement ” was in position “ with rallies of 50,000 - 100,000 people on a weekly and sometimes daily basis over a period of three months ” (Pye and Schaffar, 2008, 41). Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of PAD, also invited government officers and military to support the movement agains Thaksin (Eawsakul, 2007). Soon, the army staged a coup on 19 September 2006, overthrowing Thaksin's interim government (between elections). Social movements, since then, have obviously become popular and been widely seen everywhere.

The end of the story was disappointing for civil society development as the one who removed Thaksin from office were not civil society actors, but the military (Thongporn, 2007). It reversed the idea of triumph of civil society against authoritarian leader. The military coup in 2006 exploited the discourse PAD used to protest Thaksin to legitimate itself (Pathmanand, 2008). This coup was distinct as many NGOs and the masses supported it (see Rojanaphruk, 2007; Ungpakorn, 2009a). When the military became the government, many NGO activists and intellectuals overtly served the government and being appointed as parliamentary committees in many positions in order to manage society and decide interesting social policies (Cheangsan, 2007; Wattanasiritham, 2011; The Secretariat of the House of Representatives, 2007; Ungsuchaval, 2014a).

PAD exemplified ‘civil society coup’ (Arugay, 2012) which middle-class civil society simultaneously protested the democratically elected government and supported the military coup (see Jäger, 2012). The movement and the 2006 coup later triggered ever endless political turmoil which impaired and disintegrated civil society into various fractions till the present (see Shigetomi, 2010; Sujittarom, 2008; Ungpakorn, 2009b; Elinoff, 2014).

The Beginning of Social Enterprises (2010s Onwards)

There had been a movement about how to create better impacts with alternative form of not-for-profit organizations due to financial struggle and insufficient strategies of NGOs. Tradition budgeting of NGOs caused instability of the organizations, which affected a motivation of NGO workers. Training in marketing and enterprise skills was needed (CIVICUS, 2015, 179).

The idea of ‘social enterprise’ (SE) became the central attraction, officially mentioned for the first time in 28 July 2010 cabinet resolution, which then led to the implementation of ‘The Social Enterprises Master Plan, 2010-2014’ and the establishment of the ‘Thai Social Enterprise Office’ (TSEO). The TSEO is strategic and non-bureaucratic governmental body for initiating and supporting culture of social enterprise in society (Mali, 2014). In the early phase, the TSRO was funded by the THPF (see Sunsaneevithayakul, 2013). Arguably, the TSEO was driven by the will of THPF and managed like the THPF in terms of organizational structure and operations. In effect, the TSEO aims to increase the quantity of social enterprises in Thailand, motivate and advocate resources including business development for the entrepreneurs, and operate public relations.

The road to society of social enterprise involved many NGOs and people organizations. The TRRM and ‘Change Fusion’ institute, for example, help the TSEO lauded numerous programs to support the social entrepreneurs. One well-known program is the ‘Unlimited Thailand’. SE is also influenced by the community idea, reflecting in the concept of ‘Community-interest Company’ which was raised as a form of SE in which most of their return must go to community (see Sunsaneevithayakul, 2013).

SE is seen to be an alternative and innovative means for NGOs to solve wicked problems, apart form turing to be a social movement. Many NGOs tried to built ‘social enterprise society’ as agents of change, challenging conventional definitions of civil society and proving that the boundary between sectors actually overlaps. Consequently, some NGOs altered themselves from the traditional way of social work to become social enterprise, entailing the way of business for social proposes, despite the problems such as technical functions and ideology between both organizations, which clash each others (see Wisartsakul, 2014). The idea of transforming NGOs to be social enterprise, supported by the TSEO, has attracted public attentions and NGOs workers. This transformation is not only local movement but a global phenomenon (see Fowler, 2000).

4. NGOs, Government, and Politics

The Reasons of NGOs’ Existence

Dominant theories to explain NGOs were necessarily based on Western concepts and well-documented statical data. However, they do not fit the situation in Thailand where NGOs information and facts were not enough to accurately test the theories (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997). Thai NGOs’ data also contradicted to the Western pattern.9 The way in which Thai NGOs originate thus are different depending on their context which links back to the reason of their existence in the countries.

Economic theories (see Toepler and Anheier, 2010; Steinberg, 2006), demand-side theories in particular, contend that the greater the state’s provision of social welfare, the smaller the NGO sector (Weisbrod, 1975). In Thailand where social welfare spending has normally been low, expansion of the NGO sector has been influenced by government policies. Political conditions have highly affected the NGOs. After the Thai government unwound the policy of control over the society due to a downturn of serious threats to national security, sundry newly- formed NGOs had emerged and their roles were likely to be more advocacy- and development- oriented, not traditional social service. Moreover, the theories said that NGOs functions as a ‘gap-filler’ due to the twin failure of market and government; NGOs satisfy unfulfilled differentiated demand for the public goods in heterogeneity society. When market economy was developing before 1980s and when national security was the first priority of the state, the Thai government treated society as homogeneous10, which resulted in CSOs being controlled (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997, 7). The beginning of the story in Thailand thus did not correspond with the theories.

The early Thai philanthropic organizations were seemingly similar to those of the state except that they underlined public participation while the modern NGOs as organized civil society had emerged to support underprivileged people, proposing an alternative way for national development (Shigetomi, 2004a), distinctively operate where the state failed to do. Later, they expanded their field of activities extensively to include issues of environment, children, women, the elder, family, media, politics, and etc.

Five major factors can be said to cultivate modern NGOs in Thailand: the continuing expansion of a sizable new urban middle class as a result of recent economic growth (GhausPasha, 2004), the very increase of NGOs and community bodies in last three decades, democratization movements, ineffectiveness and non-transparency of the government, and the transformation to an information society (Supawongse, 1998; Boonchai et al., 2013). These factors actually resemble the rise of civil society and NGOs around the world.

NGOs began to argue that the top-down development policy since the 1960s had failed to enhance the lives of the majority of people and created externalities and great economic disparity; the government and market failures permit NGOs to become an alternative development agent. Thus, much of interest in NGOs has been made by a dissatisfaction in the past performance of the state (Farrington et al., 1993). The 1960s NGO movement, which can be counted as the emergent of modern NGOs, appeared as a ‘radical solution’ to the unbalanced development strategy of the state and military absolutist dictatorship (Tejapira, 2004). It aimed to reach the ‘unreached’. That is why Thai name of NGOs contain the word ‘development’ (pattana). The benefits and values of social development was a factor that brought people to join NGOs too (Vejchayachai, 1986).

Thai NGOs also exist because of work sorting, where it is a workplace for people with particular values and commitment, equality and justice failure where NGO workers are affected by social inequality and injustice, analytical failure and passiveness of citizens, where the organizations encourage people to engage in the development process and center the statecentrality mindset, and state inequality, where NGOs attempt to intervene unequal status between the state and people (Mungthanya, 2005).

In sum, the existence of Thai NGOs comes from two major conditions: the degree in which people encountered problems arising from ‘development’, and the quality and efficiency of government. People have felt the necessity of the problem and voluntarily join hands and work together. Meanwhile, the way in which the government dealt with problems was not always successful. NGOs are regarded as capable to generate alternative means to solve the problems.

Putting it in analytical framework, NGOs exist because there is a large space, unsatisfied demand, left in society (see Shigetomi, 2004b; Figure 1). In Thailand, many NGOs have operated to fill this vacant space by providing good and services to underprivileged people, known as ‘first-generation NGOs’ (Korten, 1990).

Figure 1: framework for studying the existence of NGOs State

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Shigetomi (2004b, 40)

However, the economic view is not the only reason defining the reason of existence for Thai NGOs. In Thailand, resource distribution is political matter. The state particularly asserts powerful control over NGOs. A ‘political space’ performs in the space where NGOs can act without the restraints (see Shigetomi, 2002b). Although there is a large economic space left, Thai political space for NGOs is frequently small through history.11 NGOs have been negatively treated by governments which is particularly true in the age of military dictatorship, Chuan, and Thaksin. From this point, NGOs began to alter the three traditional sectors by initiating advocacy activities. ‘Second-generation NGOs’ persuading people to organize themselves to solve their own problems and ‘third-generation NGOs’ that approach the market sector thus emerged. The types of advocacy activities vary depending on the size of the political space. If it is very small, NGOs are not allowed to operate. If it is widening, NGOs are expected to play a political role. The more liberal milieu of politics allows NGOs to grow.

For Thailand, a political space is more important than an economic one as it provides broader space and positively influences the growth of NGOs rather than lessening the vacant economic space or broadening the government’s economic space. Although there is a large economic space left with a small political space, NGOs can do nothing. Hence, Thai NGOs emerge out of political reasons rather than economic reasons; a few Thai NGOs do literally provide public service as those of the West do. They relatively play a greater role in politics. The close relationship between NGOs and politics thus is one of the key attribute of Thai NGO sector. Political perspective is thus essential to understanding the necessity of NGOs. It answers why NGOs are not relatively well-developed in Thailand, compared to the other sectors.

Traditional teaching says the state is too small to solve big problems whilst it is still too big to effectively deal with small issues. This truly represents the boredom and ineffectiveness of bureaucracy and representative democracy which have no space for non-state actors. NGOs have appeared to fill the gap between fully institutionalized state of Thailand and its less institutionalized and organized society.

NGOs, Politics, and Social Movements in Thailand

Although ‘NGO’, normally in legal sense, is supposed to limit itself to involve in ‘nonpolitical’ activities, it, in effect, frequently encounter a form of politics “ outside and beyond the representative institutions of the political system of nation-states ” (Beck, 1996, 18) and, then, is referred to build “ new geographies of political power at the intersection of civil society and institutional politics ” (Lang, 2013, 12). Being ‘nongovernmental’ is not equal ‘nonpolitical’; NGOs can and do participate in non-institutional politics. Thai NGOs did prove this argument.

Thai NGOs emerge out of political reasons rather than economic reasons; a few Thai NGOs do literally provide public service as those of the West. Accordingly, it is worth addressing the relationship between NGOs and politics. NGOs in developing countries, including Thailand, relatively play a great role in politics (Clark, 1998), compared to those of the West. The emergence of NGOs is perceived in Thai society as one attributed to democracy. NGOs have become a secondary political institution (Ghosh, 2009) and an agent of democratization.

The idea that NGOs are value-driven and apolitical is apparently not the fact. NGOs frequently made ideological options and, wittingly or unwittingly, played political roles (Hulme and Goodhand, 2000; Hilhorst, 2003). Protagonists of civil society that was reborn in its contemporary form, NGO, in the fights against oligarchies of power find themselves once again challenged to secure democracy; and that is what makes civil society ‘political’ (Powell, 2013, 5). In this sense, Thai NGOs function as a civil society actor.

Political roles of Thai NGOs came out after the 1990s. Most of the NGO story have been built around social works. The 1973 movement, regarded as the turning point to democracy, did not involve much of NGO operations; NGO activists did not take leadership roles or mobilize their constituencies to participate in the movement (Logerfo, 1997, 198). NGOs in 1973 took an indifferent standpoint to the democratic movement. NGOs before 1973 were keen merely on social welfare and relief effort, initiated and run by the elites and built upon the development endeavor of the state. Although the law forbade registered NGOs to involve in political activity, it seems that these NGOs accepted the hegemonic power of the state. The 1970s NGOs did were not ideologically readied to challenge the regime or the state. It was after 1973 that alternative development NGOs appeared, after 1980s that they became the significant force, and after 1990s that NGOs became the core of movements.

In the 1970s, NGOs were not popular among social activists as they were seen to unable to bring real changes due to their narrowness of interest and failure to address the very causes of problems (Phatharathananunth, 2006). NGOs were not regarded as ‘agents of change’, instead envisaged reactionary groups obstructing the wheel of history (Techawongtham, 1993). That time, NGOs did not turn into a movement yet; they were just non-profit entities (Techawongtham, 1993). Given labelled as communist by the state, thus, they represented a ‘middle force’, facing hostility from both the left and right (Phatharathananunth, 2006, 60).

The meaning of the middle force altered from negative to positive from the early 1980s onwards because the government tried to encourage NGOs to thrive as alternative parties for “idealistic people who were disillusioned with socialism and yet were distrustful of the government” (Techawongtham, 1993, 20; cf. Lertchoosakul, 2012).

Fairly speaking, many times, NGOs do not originally involve themselves in ‘hot’ issues but they were asked by people to help bargain with the state. Sympathy is a reason for NGOs to become involved in political issues (Techaartik, 1990; Phatharathananunth, 2006). Along the history, NGOs act as an considerable channel for the underprivileged classes to organize themselves to defend their rights and deepen democracy.

Also, there are some NGOs and mass moments which later turn to be political organizations or vice versa. Social movements and NGOs are closely linked in Thailand since the late 1990s. What was normally seen is NGO workers joined social movements as ‘non- governmental individuals’ (NGIs) (Wasinpiyamongkhon, 2013), reflecting the individualistic attribute of their working style which partially related to their NGO workplaces. NGIs may not work for NGOs while many NGOs are established to facilitate their personal works (Ibid., 5). This potentially explains why Thai NGOs in general are not well-established and momentary as they were born for individual. Arguably, Thai social movements grew out of NGO movements.

Thai NGOs engage in the movements because of their ideologies supporting the poor, and because political opportunities are open for them. NGOs act as both resources and actors in the movements (Prompitak, 2009). As resources, they give necessary knowledge and information for the movements. As actors, they shape the movements, mobilize human resources, raise issues to the public, and criticize government policies (Ibid., 188). However, their roles are dissimilar between the movements. For example, in the AOP, most of what NGOs did was mobilize resources from the outside. The decision was carried out by members of the movement, the villagers, not NGOs. NGOs were just ‘advisors’ or ‘phi liang’ . Nonetheless, this significantly indicated a superior position with responsibility to care for and guide the people in the AOP (Pintoptaeng, 1998; Missingham,2003b). On the other hand, NGOs played a greater role in PAD. They facilitated political protest against the government and performed direct confrontation measures.

However, NGOs have attracted criticism for their activities that becomes disruptive or violent. NGOs and other social organizations sometimes are referred as an ‘unelected few’ with the capability to subvert the sovereignty of constitutional democracies (AEI, 2003). Alternatively, there are mentioned as chief agent of a new ‘subpolitics’ (Beck, 2007), ‘wild cards’ in politics (DeMars, 2005), or publicly unaccountable interest groups of the third millennium (Economist, 2000). Surprisingly, although civil society obviously impacts on public participation, it, sometimes, does not play a pivotal role for democratic consolidation in Thailand (Albritton and Bureekul, 2002). Doubts towards civil society as democratizing force have emerged and especially echoed by the PAD movement (Walker, 2014; Kuhonta and Sinpeng, 2014). Thai NGOs since 2005 have been criticized as do not promote election and majority of vote which are parts of democratic principle (Sawasdee and Others, 2014). Claimed to use civil disobedience, the PAD arguably broke the law and violated other people’ rights (Charoensin-o- larn, 2011, 42; Pawakapan, 2013; Thompson, 2008). When civil society actors in democratic context do not respect the law, and, to some extent, the authority of the state based on a rule of law, they potentially becomes ‘uncivil society’. This normally harms society and democratic development as a whole.

Besides, the Image of Thai civil society is top-down relationship and fragmented. SRI (2003) found that Thai NGOs tend to be temporary and stay confuse about their role which create negative image to the public. As a consequence, NGOs do not gain trust from society and keep losing their trust (see Bureekul et al., 2010, 18).

Thus, Thailand shows that association of ‘ordinary people’ as organized civil society can be either ‘heroes’ or ‘villains’ for democracy, especially in ‘extraordinary times’ (see Bermeo, 2003). The ‘vigor of associational life’ might ‘undermine and delegitimize’ the formal political structures on which democracy rests (Berman, 1997, 414). It might serve as much a threat to democratic institutions as a support (Whittington, 2001). The two differing versions of civil society brings up questions with profound implications. When does civil society appear with its most desirable face or its opposite face? When do people perform anti-democratic groups and when do they advocate democratic groups instead? This requires a further study.

The Growth of NGOs and Government Policy

Historical development of Thai NGOs denotes that as Thai society evolved, various groups manifested. The growth of the NGO sector is heavily dependent on a political space, namely government policies. In general, the shift of government policy from control to support is related to ‘national security’ mentality. As liberal economic developed and political ideology threats diminished, the government employed a more liberal policy towards NGOs. The major fear of the government regarding NGOs has been the possible threat to the governing elites and national security as a whole. Consequently, the size of the NGO sector was limited. International factors, the Western particularly, have always played an important role regarding the emergence of Thai NGOs since the premodern era.

Since Thailand adopted more liberal policies towards the NGO sector from the 1980s, CSOs have rapidly grown. Re-opening of the political space and the intensification of conflicts over the use of natural resources together triggered the development of the 1980s NGOs. The association of people to publicly protest has significantly increased after the 1980s (see Pintobtang, 1998). A further three factors can be considered to be catalysts for the rise of NGOs: Prime Ministerial Order 66/2523 (1980) which gave the amnesty for the jungle people, the Fifth National Social and Economic Development Plan (1982-1986) which referred to public participation in rural development, and internal conflicts in larger NGOs which caused an amount of workers to start their own works (Prompitak, 2009, 59). However, as shown below, the trend is not linear.

Figure 2: the proliferation and fluctuation of organized civil society in Thailand

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Source: adapted from SRI (2003, 177)

The fluctuation of graph (see Figure 2) arguably reflects the instability of the Thai state and the failure of the government. Thailand, like many other nations of Southeast Asia, has arguably witnessed risen civil society only in the last few decades. Although democracy has appeared since 1932, the military held power until 1990s. There were a lot of coup governments on average every three years (Wright, 1992) with suppressive policies and conflicts. In the 1960s, although the developmental government was pressured by international economy to promote the non-state organizations and their position in policy process, it allowed the growth and incorporation of CSOs to extend no more than absolutely necessary; NGOs unsurprisingly developed unevenly among non-state sector (Logerfo, 1997). The 1973, 1976, and 1992 events resulted in many casualties. The situation became better from the mid 1990s and CSOs started to spring up all over the country.

The growth of NGOs during the 1970s and 1980s clearly suggests ‘fill-the-gap’ reason responded to the government failure. Actually, some governments did accept that they were lacking resources which then opened the road for NGOs as an alternative solution. Many times the state did support and help build NGOs itself. Moreover, the NGO community itself was not always unified. There were times that NGO factions fought each other, which resulted in many discontinuations in their activities, temporarily or permanently. The situations significantly affected NGO’s growth.

Thai government policy has gone through a series of shifts from laissez-faire to more control, from a non-formal type of management to using legal tools as the key policy instrument, and with executive focus from the central to the local level. The state traditionally has no reason to intervene in philanthropic business. However, when foreign organizations and ideologies came in, the state felt the threats to national security. In addition, as NGOs evolved to be more advocacy- and development-oriented which frequently opposed the state, the state thus saw NGOs as a treat to political stability. It is evident that laws and regulation towards NGOs were introduced each time because the state felt that the national security was threatened by the emergence of different kinds of organization.

Basically, the legal environment influences the development of NGOs. According to Salamon and Anheier (1994), Thailand is classified as ‘a developing centralized civil law society’; Thai NGOs are regulated by civil law. Definitely, Thailand has the Constitution as the foremost law that allows the erection of NGOs (Cheecharoen and Udornpim, 1999). As a civil law country, “no ‘ basic ’ right to organize is automatically recognized in law ” ; formal law does shape the environment for NGO action rather fundamentally (Ghaus-Pasha, 2004, 8). Given the general authoritarian politics in Thailand, the legal structure for NGO activity has been quite restrictive.

Table 1: NGOs (Foundation and Association) and Other People Organizations Registration in Thailand

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Adapted and revised from SRI (2003, 53).

Even so, the government’s fear of NGOs can be seen in registration practice. Regulation of NGO has been highly subjected to government discretion. Registration, in effect, was the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior, the Police Department, and the Department of Provincial Administration (see Table 1). The state selected the agencies who directly govern NGOs by ‘stick’, not ‘carrot’. Moreover, defined as a ‘good’ means to conserve ‘Thainess’, culture was used by the governors to regulate society and control what government seen to be ‘bad’ over the history. The state employed ‘culture’ to fight communism and threat to national and political stability in the name of preserving good thing of the country. NGOs were supposed to preserve cultural heritage or provide humanitarian assistance (Cheecharoen and Udornpim, 1999). The National Cultural Act is the product of this mentality to control society; culture has become a tool of governing society. Hence, to be proper NGOs, the organizations must state non- political objectives and promise to not involve in political activities in the application form. Thus, the state holds a certain power towards NGOs as it ultimately can neither accept or refuse registration. However, what NGOs need to report to the state such as their activities and financial accounting, in practice, was not seriously checked due to the lack of government’s resources (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997).

The governmental ways to manage NGOs creates the difficulty of NGO registration; there is no unity of registration for NGO. Many times, this process is on the consideration of a public officer, not a committee (Boramanan, 1998). This dual authority for creation and oversight causes excessive government control over which categories of NGOs are licensed to live and immoderate bureaucracy for NGOs searching for performing their activities. Additionally, interfering regulation and managerial discretion are seen with arbitrary treatment towards NGOs disliked by the government and lack of NGOs’ autonomy (Simon, 2002). When the state controls NGOs too much, NGOs will lose their essence as ‘a corporate form of freedom’ (Silber, 2001).

What’s more, two reasons should be mentioned on why many NGOs do not register with the state. First, given majority of Thai NGOs is advocacy and grassroots organizations with any political or advocacy objectives, it is not easy for them to meet the requirement of the government: a certain amount of endowment fund for a foundation, a large membership for an association, and non-political objective. As long as they can function and financially survive, they do not need to register (Salamon and Anheier, 1994). Second, registering with the government is seen as allying with the state which contradict to the ideology and characteristic of ‘anti-bureaucracy’ of NGOs. Some argue that when NGOs become registered, NGOs will not able to criticize the state as they should do (see Rakyutidharm, 2014b). However, only registered NGOs are regards as official NGOs qualified for legal transactions with other organizations (Shigetomi, 2002c). Thus, what shows up on official records as formally constituted NGOs potentially is ‘safe’ organizations which obscuring the real diversity of NGO universe (Salamon and Anheier, 1994, 8).

NGOization and De-NGOization Trends of Civil Society

Modern NGOs as an agent of civil society emerged after 1970s. Thailand, like many other nations of Southeast Asia, has arguably witnessed a rise in civil society only in the last few decades. Although democracy has appeared since 1932, the government in effect was in the power of military until 1990s. Actually, NGOs are not merely the result of the history, interrelating national and international developments and politics; they do play a role in such developments (Hilhorst, 2003).

Historical investigation shows what and how Thai society has revealed itself in the form of civil society and NGO sector; civil society has become NGOized through the history. Lang (2013) states that NGOization of civil society refers to a shift from rather loosely organized, horizontally dispersed and broadly mobilizing social movement or community group to more professionalized, vertically structured NGOs. Economic and institutional roots are important driving forces. The professionalization of the NGO sector in a technocratic sense plus a gradual distancing of the organizations form their social base can be also described as ‘NGOization’ (see Choudry and Kapoor, 2013). This phenomenon lead to centralization of funding to larger NGOs, particularly those located in the capital city, and alternation in the NGOs’ ecosystem, creating preconceived notions of how civil society should operate and divisions of NGOs (Edwards, 2014).

‘Nonprofit professionals’, on the one hand, might well administrate their organizations and positively engage with government. On the other hand, it sometimes prompts “ the establishment of an elite of activists rather than the fostering of horizontal ties, norms of reciprocity and civicness ” (Jacobsson and Saxonberg, 2013, 7). The expansion of the NGOs by fostering top-down, centralized, bureaucratic, corporate NGOs rather than grassroots, bottom-up processes potentially harms the building of a functioning civil society (Henderson, 2002; cf. Fagan, 2005). The popularity of public protest and social movement, frequently with political incentives, which occupy the civil society ecosystem in the past decade can be seen as a form of de-NGOization.

Attempts to define and classify the NGOs by laws unavoidably becomes part of NGOization as it tries to grasp NGO, or make an organization becomes an NGO. It also impacts policy implications in terms of ‘who is in and who is out, and who gets what’ (Lewis, 2014, 54). It is also noted that the initiation of the state to promote non-state forces may eventually cause the a rise of total amount of regulations, paperwork, and bureaucrat-like employers (Graeber, 2015). Thai NGOs have, to some extent, been bureaucratized, namely NGOized.

The more the state intends to reduce its interference in the NGO sector actually results in producing more regulations and more bureaucrat-like people in the NGO community. This apparent paradox can be observed so regularly in the case of relationship between the THPF and NGOs (see Rakyutidharm, 2014a). Many NGOs turned to be isomorphic with the funder which is the state agency. Ultimately, NGOs are ‘projectized, log-framed and compliant’ (CIVICUS, 2015) under the newly-emerged ‘contract culture’. The more the state liberalizing the policy towards NGOs, the more NGOs become under the state regulation. It has changed from hard control via controlled laws to soft control via subsidy and contract.

Ideology is another phenomenon of NGOization. Ideas such as community culture and sufficiency economy significantly tamed NGOs and made them look more professional as they have their own strategy and cooperate with the state.

Actually, the development pattern of Thai NGOs is arguably not entirely new. NGOs are likely to constantly evolve through a series of ‘generations’, from an ad hoc unit interested in meeting the immediate needs of vulnerable people in its initial days, to the more formal organization and eventually to a networked, or looser, social movements focused on certain issues in wider structural concerns (Levitt, 1975; Korten, 1987). Thai history is evident from the evolution of NGOs, from NGOization to de-NGOization.

NGOs have proved themselves to be a great agent of social development. However, if they want to influence or change bigger political and social structure and policy, they necessarily transform themselves into broad-based social movement to mobilize more resources and overthrown undesired regime. It is possible to argue that Thai civil society becomes NGOized for operating in social development and de-NGOized to alter broader politics and society. As both NGOs and social movement have their own strengths (see Lang, 2013; Prompitak, 2009), they support each other to advocate policy. Nonetheless, these two entities are essentially not the same and sometimes contrast with each other. Engaging with or transforming to social movement make NGOs look more belong to people as they are not small, professionalized, and funded by private or government organizations. NGOs are seen to have a set of fixed priorities while social movements are envisaged as more fluid and reacted to the varieties of goals. However, in reality, many social movements were not naive and pure; many of them became uncivil society. Another de-NGOization happened recently is the effort to transform to SE as an alternative solution for NGOs’ existence. SE can better change society in smaller scale with innovative approaches. Throughout the history Thai CSOs have become NGOized for reasons and arguably de-NGOized for reasons as well.

Thai NGOs have become more professionalized as they worked with people in rural areas. The 1997 Constitution that allowed NGOs to engage more in policy process did institutionalize Thai civil society and then partly triggered NGOization. To sum up, civil society became NGOized in 1970s because ‘the answer is in the village’ and in 1980s because ‘the answer is in the policy process’. However, it has been considerably de-NGOized from the 1990s because NGOs were reluctant to involve in parliamentary politics based on representative democracy (Shigetomi, 2002c, 140), instead they preferred other ways of influencing policy; the answer did move to the base, performing civil movement.

NGOization tells some significant implications about Thai civil society. First, it is a specific condition that means NGOs do operate in late modern civil society. Second, the state- NGO relationships is developing into more collaborative as when loosely civil society became NGOized; ‘professionalized’ and ‘depoliticized’ NGOs better meet the need of states, business, and private donors to seek out reliable partners in civil society. NGOs can gain either material or symbolic returns or both, such as a better legal status for credibility for donors and influence policy process and a more frequent communication between state agencies and NGOs. “ Positive feedback mechanisms set in if civic groups or movements NGOnize ” (Lang, 2013, 7). Third, it signifies the growth of institutionalized advocacy. This plays a important part when NGOs engage in policy issues and political institutions. Nevertheless, it can degenerate the capacity of NGOs to perform broader public engagement and movement (see Ibid.). Arguably, the history of Thai NGOs reveals interesting ‘intended’ and ‘unintended’ consequences (see Appendix 1). NGOization, commonly happened as NGOs cooperated more with the state, and de-NGOization, usually appeared as NGOs became social movements against the state, are the result.

5. Forward: The Thai Model, Semi-Civil Society?

State-Civil Society Relations

Public authority roles in Thailand have still been dominated by bureaucracy and military (see Appendix 2), described as ‘bureaucratic polity’ (Riggs, 1966). Other non-bureaucratic mechanisms were weak in this regime (Wilson, 1966). Although, since 1970s, a certain non-state actor, a business organization, has come into the stage and transformed the bureaucratic polity, at least in economic affairs, into ‘liberal corporatism’ (Laothamatas, 1992), it only deconcentrated the political and economic power to business; the public policy-making and public activities still involved just bureaucratic organizations and some influential business corporations. Also, Thai democracy seemingly is a form of ‘minimal democracy’ equating just election (Phatharathananunth, 2006; Przeworski, 1999) and dominated by money interests (Neher, 1995; Phongpaichit and Baker, 1997b, 2005). The political-bureaucratic-business ‘iron triangle’ generated exclusionary nature of Thai society and politics (Maisrikrod and McCargo, 1997). Everything considered, few NGOs played a role in public service and policy; there was definitely a lack of the ‘third sector’.

The state-NGO relationship has frequently been strained. Before 1990s, government officials have been trained to have a skeptical view towards non-state actors, especially in terms of political and moral (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997). In reality, some underground political organizations disguised themselves as NGOs. Some also connected with gambling and illegal activities as well as used tax exemption status to buy equipment for for-profit activities.

Grassroots and advocacy NGOs were the most suspicious for their political motives. NGOs were charged as ‘third-hand’, ‘third-party’ or conflict creator along the history (Sattayanurak, 2006). Even though the treat of communism was lessening, advocacy activities have stayed as a threat to government stability.

One evidence that can prove the antagonistic relationship between the state and NGOs is the amount of government subsidy towards NGOs. Unlike the Western where government normally is the second source of NGOs’ income (see Salamon, 2012; Kendall, 2003), Thailand has little proportion of public subsidy on nonprofit institutions (see Salamon el at., 2012; NESDB, 2010). A Western NGO-like organization has more reliance upon public sources (Kendall, 2003, 24). However, it does not mean that Thai NGOs have not depended more on the public sector, given after the fall of foreign fund since the 1990s and most of Thai NGOs are not membership-based organizations (Thabchumpon, 2011). More evidence is their conflicts over public policy especially in the area of environment and natural resources (see Sangiampongsa, 2003).

Nonetheless, the relationship has slowly changed over the past decades as the government has gained more political stability. The government began to see the NGOs as a complement while many NGOs have increasingly been participating in the public policies. However, the early cooperation between the state and NGOs was not viewed positively by all groups. Some were labelled as ‘pro-government NGOs’ (Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan, 1997) which were philanthropic- and welfare-oriented, in contrast to more liberal NGOs which were development-oriented.

Since NGOs and other non-state actors proved the power of civil society to overthrow the re-establishment of military regime in 1992 and survive the 1997 economic crisis, Thailand became a ‘civil society’ since then (Girling, 2002) and the state has been moving from ‘security state’ to more democratic state (Sapyen, 2004b). The emergence of umbrella organizations, coordinating bodies, and funds aiming to create networking among actors in society is one of the pivotal factors for this changing situation as well (Rakyutidharm, 2014a).

In the 1970s, NGOs tended to use ‘political economy’ approach aiming to alter power relations between the state and society. However, since the 1980s, the ‘community culture’ have become the mainstream of alternative development and advocated ‘partnership’ between the state and society as crucial components of ‘civil society’. It tactically made the state trust NGOs that they would not directly confront the state power but cooperate with the state. Nevertheless, mass mobilization may still be obvious but mainly for social movement activity.

Intended or not, community culture has tamed civil society and instead raised the power the state. Although the NGOs’ roles have risen significantly, the government still has dominant power. However, it is risky to presume that NGOs are completely under the patronage of, or being dominated by the state. The relationships between the two parties is collaborative, reciprocal, and illustrates a certain kind of public governance. In reality, Thai state-NGO relations show complex modes of relationships, depend on issues, where one mode can overlap another at a certain time (see Shigetomi, 2002c; Figure 3). NGOs that emerged in the 1960s were already holding alternative development differing from the governmental development. Each sector performed in their own way, creating the ‘critical parallelism’. In the mid 1970s, conflict between the state and NGOs has dramatically risen, especially in environmental and human rights issues. NGOs and the state increasingly exchanged information and strategy from 1980s which allowed NGOs to participate more with the state in politics and public policy from the 1990s. The more NGOs participated, the more the state agencies eroded, particularly in local areas.

Figure 3: modes of Thai state-NGO relations

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Source: Shigetomi (2002c, 141)

The relationship between the state and NGOs that changed from antagonistic to more collaborative signified some implications. Firstly, NGOs have unconsciously become an arm of the state, to control and discipline people lives, due to the limitation of NGOs analysis of ‘the state’. It is particularly the case for implanting sufficiency economy as an alternative development approach to empower people in community areas. Secondly, NGOs, by creating their own sphere as part of the state, endeavor to keep the role in civil society. Next, intended or not, NGOs and the state often share a common development ideology in terms of attempting to control and determine people’s ways of living according to their own values (Rakyutidharm, 2014b). NGOs in this sense entail ‘governmentality’ with the state (Pradab, 2013).

Therefore, NGOs have been variously threatened along the history by the government; the difference is a matter of degree. In the authoritarian times, especially by the coup military governments, NGOs were intimidated and controlled. However, the situations in Thailand are not simple. Some coup military governments supported and worked with CSOs. It is evident in the 2006 Council for National Security. This junta was referred as ‘softie or semi-dictatorship’ as its success factor for coup was the collaboration of people and civil society (Tejapira, 2007). Many NGO activists, thinkers and media workers were appointed to help the government administrated society and decided interesting social policies. Thus, civil society, NGOs and military government sometimes formed partnership.12 Further, it does not mean that an elected government was totally friendly to NGOs. Thaksin, for instance, control and activities of NGOs and gradually terminated the legitimacy of NGOs. His philanthropic protectionism and laws to combat perceived foreign funds for NGOs seriously wrecked domestic NGOs.

Arguably, Thai NGOs do not strongly hold any political ideology or political policy; they are merely interested in social development (see Ungpakorn, 1986). Thai NGOs based on ‘experience-oriented’ civil society, sometimes, could not side with the democratic principle if their goals can still be pursued—thereby, ‘pragmatist’. This partially explains why some Thai NGOs supported or did not protested the junta if it decided and implemented favorable social policies.13 However, it all depended on the situation of the time and what the government ‘did’ more than what the government ‘was’.

Actually, the motivation behind what generates government policies towards NGOs do not correlate with the type of government (democratic or authoritarian) (Weir, 2003; Fisher, 1998; Gray, 1998; Sanyal, 1997; Streeten, 1997), nor does it necessarily correspond to whether the state is an advanced industrialized nation or a developing one (Hudock, 1999). Conversely, the state responds to two mapped factors: the primary role NGOs assumes (advocacy or service provision) and to what extent the visible NGOs are (Clark et al., 1998; Hudock, 1999). Therefore, how NGOs influence the state is not a one-sided, unidimensional phenomenon, yet based on relationship between both actors, resulted in an amount of responses of the state towards NGO activities (Weir, 2003, 46).

The state’s responses to NGOs, in reality, are varied, ranging from complete rejection to outright cooperation. Thailand also represents somewhere in between these extremes as the state sometimes institutionalize NGOs, disregard their presence, passively accept them. Besides, the state initiates their own NGOs, GONGOs, as a means to regulate or push NGOs out of the state. Institutionalizing or co-opting NGOs is used to control NGOs as well. Sometimes, the government supported the creation of coordinating bodies between the state and NGOs because it necessarily want to monitor NGOs closer. Conversation between them were not wholly sincere. However, the result is not necessarily harmful to the NGOs’ works (Weir, 2003). When NGOs have closely contacted or negotiated with the state, the possible outcomes were a close ‘embedded autonomy’ relationship with the state (Evans, 1995), or a formal compliance while operating strategies of evasion and circumnavigation of the state (Saich, 2011). This idea benefits to avoid the pitfall of illustrating civil society as totally against the state while permits a dynamic interplay between NGOs and the state.

In sum, Thai state-NGO relations represented ‘dualist’ attributes (Sapyen, 2004b). On the one hand, they cooperate with each other; on the other hand, they suspect each other. It was a ‘consultative authoritarianism’ (Teets, 2013) which simultaneously promoted the development of fair CSOs and instruments of state control.

Semi-Civil Society?

Undeniably, numerous NGOs were established by the elites, royals, and government agencies (see Kulkakornsakul, 1999; Chitbundid et al., 2004; Sritanyarat, 2008). NESDB and Ministry of Interior are two influential state apparatuses that manufactured civil society through a series of policies by facilitating and direct building respectively (Jumnianpol, 2001). The former case potentially brought about change agents but required a long time while the latter case could increase the quantity of organization in a short time but worked under state direction.

The state mechanisms were echoed with the prominent idea of ‘partnership’ among NGO workers which unintentionally weakened civil society by allowing itself to become part of the state whilst strengthen the state’s position towards civil society (Phatharathananunth, 2006; Jumnianpol, 2001). It invited governmental agencies to engage in a vast range of activities formerly carrying out independently by CSOs, augmenting the state’s control over society as the state, in effect, is the first among equals. Additionally, since the state has become the key source of funding, it influenced, neutralized, de-politicized, and manipulated the activities of partnership (Phatharathananunth, 2006, 10), demanding in return a disciplined partnership. A form of ‘state corporatism’ consequently happened, instead of civil partnership and was arguably criticized for building ‘manufactured civil society’ (Peci et al., 2011; Hodgson, 2004). The scenario was particularly true in rural areas. The state-manufactured CSOs have been “ a tool for the government to co-opt and control civil society ” (Crispin, 2000, 21). Thai state was not consistently pushed back by civil society but managed to discover methods to marginalize or co- opt NGOs.14

Although NGOs initiated by ordinary people did happen after the 1980s, they have been domesticated as an integral part of many development movements by progressive elites such as community culture, sufficiency economy, and good governance. Thai civil society has thus been captured by ‘elite-led’, if not ‘state-led’ (Albritton and Bureekul, 2002). The idea of ‘state-led civil society’ proposed by Frolic (1997) is well suited to describe the uncommon situation of Thai civil society. Thai society has gone down a different path compared to the Western one. Thai NGOs do not always side with democratic institutions (Kuhonta and Sinpeng, 2014; Elinoff, 2014). Thai NGOs did not wholeheartedly follows the Western path of democratic civil society. Furthermore, the state has played important roles in helping the erection of organizations working for social purposes, accordingly becoming NGOs. The sense of meaning of civil society which represents absolute non-state feature is not well-fitted to Thai context. In Western nations, NGO sector is actually the ‘first sector’ not the ‘third sector’ as they exist long before government agencies, occupying the space we now sometimes refer to as civil society (Simon, 1999, xii). There is no need for the state to help generate NGOs. Thailand, conversely, did not have such a strong groups like that. The government is the first organization that take care of social services. The Thai state represents a centralized and ‘activist state’ (Samudavanija, 1991) which play a leading role in every program of society, especially the developmental programs including association of civil society groups.

NGOs and the state have a reciprocally dependent relationship over the history which means that the NGOs were neither completely autonomous from the state nor completely dependent on the state and vice versa, which prompted the notion of ‘semi-civil society’ (He, 1997), instead of a ‘full’ civil society. This idea points to the middle position of the Thai civil society, between the Western kind of fully presence civil society and the entire absence of civil society in authoritarian society.

Most Western concepts that view civil society as something against the state underestimate the role the Thai state had in sponsoring significant changes leading to organizational innovation which can be a precursor to civil society. Governmental bodies have given birth to GONGOs (Chaiyasan, 2013; Thammachot, 2008) which have successfully worked in various fields. Many umbrella organizations and coordinating bodies for NGOs were initiated by the state as well. These state-led NGOs often play a more direct role in policy formulation than in other agencies as they do no need to compete in social space with other NGOs for dominance and access to the government’s concern on a particular policy issues (Saich, 2000). Therefore, Thai civil society can be argued to be created by the state to help it govern, co-opt and socialize potentially politically active elements in the population. Semi-civil society illustrated the problematic tension in which NGOs are not absolutely autonomous from the state while the state has dependent conditions with NGOs as well.

Appendix 1 Intended and Unintended Consequences of the State Policy towards NGO sector

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Appendix 2 Prime Ministers in Thailand

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Note: This table does not indicate the way they took power as it merely aims to show the proportion of civilian and military leader in Thailand. Some military PMs did win election as representatives of political parties in democratic environment. Some were the PM more than one time.


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Thai Social Enterprise Office,

‘UnLtd Thailand’ Project,

Foundation for Thailand Rural Reconstruction Movement Under Royal Patronage,


Office of the National Economic and Social Development Board,

Thai Volunteer Service Foundation,

NGO Coordinating Committee on Development (NGO-COD),

Community Organizations Development Institute,

Local Development Institute,

Thai Health Promotion Foundation,

Community Organizations Development Institute,


1 Relied on varied sources of material, the same analyses are rarely conducted on identical data sets although using the similar secondary one (Smith, 2008). The range and availability of such data mean that opportunities for creating original analyses are almost incalculable (White, 2009).

2 There is evidence that looking at the old data through new conceptual lenses or reinterpret the existing information with others standpoint of view can, to some extent, create interesting results and new knowledge (see Savage, 2005; Moore, 2006).

1 The word ‘sector’, in fact, refers to an intellectually artificial construct, not an institutional reality (Kramer, 2004).

2 Hann (1996) censures the Tocqueville’s idea as a ‘romanticised western model’ as it emerged in Western political discourse and contends that it put an overt emphasis on formal associational life, ignoring the informal dimension which often exist instead.

3 Numerous works on civil society in the Western were published in this period as well (see Diamond, 1994; Splichal et al., 1994; Kumar, 1993; Beckman, 1993; Seligman, 1992; Cohen and Arato, 1992; Wood, 1990).

4 There are many disagreements towards this translation of NGO as it does not convey the very meaning of organization. Thus, some prefer to use the very word ‘NGO’ (en chi o) or ‘public benefit organization (ongkorn satharana prayot)’ (see Sawasdee and Others, 2014).

5 Previous study on Thai nonprofit sector by Pongsapich and Kataleeradabhan (1997) added another two attributes that were non-religious and nonpolitical. However, these two features can be seen as a part of ‘altruistic’ characteristics.

6 Actually, there is a conceptual difference between organized civil society and NGO as the characteristic institution of civil society is relatively broader in many senses as some organizations can be included in civil society while they might not be counted in the realm of NGOs. However, there still is an issue made it become narrow due to its public value and goal. Take governmental-organized NGOs (GONGOs) for example, it is one kind of NGOs but not civil society because it essentially serves governments (see Cumming, 2010; Hollaway, 2001). Blair (1997) contends that whilst all organized civil society are NGOs, by no means are all NGOs also organized civil society (p. 24-25).

7 The National Coordinating Center for rural development, the Office of National Economic and Social Development Board supported the NGO meeting on 13-14 December 1985, in which the nationwide NGO representatives gathered together. As a result, the ‘NGO Coordinating Committee on Rural Development’ (NGOCORD) was found.

8 There are disagreements on whether the AOP should be regarded as ‘civil society’ or not. For instance, Sirisai (1999) reasons that the AOP did not achieve the purposes of association in the form of ‘civil society’ as the term ‘civil society’ in the late 1990s Thailand was often linked to a particular urban and middle-class. It might take time for the middle classes to understand or support the AOP movement (Prasatset, 1997).

9 For instance, in developed countries such as the US and the UK, nonprofit organizations receive most of their revenue from service fees (see Salamon, 2012; Kendall, 2003), while most of revenue for Thai nonprofits came from philanthropic giving (see Salamon el at., 2012; NESDB, 2010). The Western nonprofits had many social service providers while Thailand did not; most of Thai NGOs were advocacy- and development-oriented. Thai NGOs were forbidden to get money from society; Thai NGOs were not expected to rely on fees and service charges for the majority of their incomes.

10 Before the 1990s, Thailand appeared to be the less heterogeneous among developing countries as its people were Buddhist and Thai (Britannica World Data, 1991).

11 However, compared with other Asian countries, Thailand showed relatively wide political space (see Shigetomi, 2002b).

12 Coup and democracy in Thailand are not entirely opposite; coup is not always sabotage democracy. There were some coups operated in order to revise or call for ‘Thai-style democracy’ (Tejapira, 2007).

13 There was a wide and successful participatory policy process to establish Thai Public Broadcasting Service in 2008. The military government through technocratic- and NGO-background ministers performed nationwide public hearings and rationally decided the policy (see Ungsuchaval, 2014a; Siroros and Ungsuchaval, 2012).

14 Even so, co-optation of civil society is necessarily not the product of cooperation between the state and NGOs (see Phatharathananunth, 2006). In effect, NGOs can keep their autonomy when contracted with the state.

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Civil Society and Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) in Thailand. History, Politics, and State-Society Relations
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