Wednesday, December 03, 2008


The middle class radicals who have forced the end to democratically-elected governments* in Thailand have not done Thailand any long-term favours.  Recent events in fact constitute a middle-class coup that has driven a popularly elected government from office.  That is true even if the government was not entirely saintly.

When I lived in Thailand 20 years ago there were periodic military coups (2 in the 8 years I was there) which shuffled the deck chairs and occasionally produced significant violence. At about the time of my departure there was the optimistic feeling that the military would occupy a more traditional military role that largely lay outside of politics and business.  For a few years this seemed to happen and the strong growth that Thailand enjoyed continued unabated up until the 1997 financial crash.

Now PM Somchai's party has been found guilty of electoral fraud and dissolved. Somchai has been barred from politics for five years and Deputy Prime Minister Chaowarat Chandeerakul has become acting prime minister. Anti-government protesters have declared victory and say they will vacate the airports that they occupied to force this issue.  It is difficult to judge the extent to which the Thai military passively stood to one side to allow this to happen.

The best way for the Thai people to strengthen their democracy is to vote out poor politicians at election time.  Coups whether launched by the military or by a Bangkok-based middle class are a short-cut that will never be a successful longer-term solution.

The Thais are one of the most pleasant of peoples. Friendliness is ingrained into the national character.  But there is a dark side to the country - high murder rates and a proclivity to settle everyday disputes with the gun - that cannot be ignored.  The current elitist coup may settle some immediate political scores but has disinfranchised a majority of the Thai population.  It is a dangerous precedent that could lead to significant violence.  Of course I hope I am wrong in this but I fear I will not be.

And of course the real development problems that Thailand still continues to face will not be improved by having a permanently threatened democracy.

*The recent PM (Mr Somchai Wongsawat) was admittedly nominated by the Thai Parliament but his party (and that of his predescessor Mr Thaksin), repeatedly were endorsed by a majority of the population.


Spiros said...

The airport blockade method reminds of a negotiating tactic once used by a community group in the US that had a beef with an airport over something or other.

They occupied the toilets. Just went in there and sat on the toilet seats all day. It caused mayhem - particularly among women - and the airport caved in to their demands.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

spiros - it was known at the O'Hare Airport Shit in organised by activist Saul Alinsky.

He often focussed on a strategy that would clearly work - the Shit In - then used it to negotiate before it was needed to demonstrate its effectiveness.

The Yippies threat to LSD the water supply was a less inspired weak rip off of Alinsky's methods.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

harry - I've only just come to understand that these Thai protestors are essentially anti democratic. The lack of background and analysis in our media is a bloody shame. And they have the temerity to sneer at bloggers.

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