13 Dec '13     home | previous

Thailand and Democracy

Europe went through hell in the 1920s and into the 1940s when there was little respect for democracy, and there was a turn to authoritarians as hero-leaders. World War II changed Europe, especially Western Europe, and eastern and central Europe changed too with the demise of that authoritarian brand of socialism known as Marxism-Leninism. But today in Thailand we see a continuing old-fashioned disrespect for democracy among a significant minority. They reject electoral politics and have been in the streets trying to drive from power an elected government, which they call the Thaksin regime. The leader of that regime is Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of a former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, whose party won overwhelmingly in parliamentary elections in 2011. Those in the streets protesting and attacking government buildings don't think they could win in elections but hope to win in the streets. Today, December 12, 2013, according to BBC News, they "briefly broke into Government House, and later cut off the office's power supply."

As a street mob they express certainty in the rightness of their cause, as passionate mobs usually do, and they denounce their opponents as stupid. They direct their support to a spokesperson who is delighted to ride the power opportunity that he believes has been presented him. That person is Suthep Thaugsuban. He is being charged with the murder of demonstrators in the 2010 crackdown against those who won the elections in 2011. He was deputy to then Prime Minister Abhist Vejjajiva, who has been formally charged with murder and is currently free on bail. Suthep was a high-ranking member of their rightwing Democrat Party until his resignation last week to become the leader of the protest movement.

Sethup was an opportunistic politician charged with questionable practices, but now he presents himself as Thailand's "moral protector." And to the mobs in the street he has become an icon. His face is on posters plastered on cars, walls and tee-shirts. So it goes these days with emotional reactionaries who have little respect for democracy.

Sethup has resorted to bombast of his sort. Last week he gave a deadline by which Yingluck was supposed to resign or else, a deadline that came and went. Sethup says he wants a government that is an appointed council. And appealing to mob sentiments he calls for a government that has more respect for Thailand's constitutional monarch, Bhumibol Adulyadej, of the House of Mahido. The king isn't vociferous in defense of democracy. He is neutral, telling people to stay unified in the interest of the country. The real path to unity, however, is respect for the democratic process by a population that is, like all populations, somewhat divided.

Thailand's military is also now posing as neutral. It is under the authority of the king. It was they who in 2006 overthrew Yingluck's brother, who was revered and popular for supporting reforms. Both he and his sister have been executives in the communications industry. Sethup comes from a family of wealth in land.

Political unrest in Thailand damaged the country's economy in decades past, preventing it from becoming another South Korea, Taiwan or Singapore. But passionate crowds of authoritarians will pursue power at the expense of economic development.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.