The history of the Thais reveals their gift and their liking for order and organization. Even in times of crisis for the monarchy the bureaucracy never ceased to carry on its daily tasks and keep the administration of the country going. In earlier times the leading officials were recruited from among members of the royal family, who were numerous; in particular the influential posts of provincial governor were usually occupied by close relatives of the King, on the view that the bonds of kinship would ensure their loyalty. From the time of King Trailokanat officials were given various titles, with salaries which differed according to their title. The salary, however, was little more than a token and of much greater importance was the grant to each official for life of a particular rank in the nobility and territorial jurisdiction over landed estates, varying in extent according to their title and official functions.
The administration of the country was thus based on strictly hierarchical system in which there were five grades Khun, Luang, Phra, Phya and, highest of all, Chao Phraya. It may be noted that this social structure contributed to the low regard for money, and for trade, which Buddhism had inculcated, since the mere possession of wealth or property gave neither status nor power: only the grant of nobility for life accorded by the King to state officials carried with it the enjoyment, temporary though it might be, of land, authority and some degree of prosperity.
Since the 1932 revolution this system has been reformed, and officials are now appointed by selection on the basis of national examinations on the American model. There are now four principal grades of official – those of the third rank (chantri), the second rank (chantok), the first rank (chanek) and special rank (chan piset), this last rank being held only by a very small number of officials of outstanding ability.
The regional and provincial administration is strictly centralized. Since 1947 the country has been divided into 71 provinces (changwat). The governors of the provinces are appointed by the Ministry of the Interior. Each province is divided into some 5 to 10 districts (amphoe), of which there are 411 in the country as a whole. The district officer (nai amphoe) is a central government official on a national salary scale, and he and his staff are the only representatives of the government in direct contact with the population. As an outsider he is usually respected rather than liked.
A district is made up of 6 to 10 communes (tambon), 3327 in total; and each commune in turn contains between 12 and 20 villages (muban), of which there are altogether some 50,000. The head of the commune (kamman) is directly elected by his peers and enjoys considerable influence. The lowest grade in the administrative hierarchy is the village headman (puyaibum, “great man of the village”). By ancient tradition he is elected by the people of the village, but his authority is not unlimited, since he now shares it with the abbot of the local monastery and the schoolmaster.