19 May 2010

Article: The End of Democracy in Thailand?

Andrew Walker and Nicholas Farrelly are the authors of an article titled "The End of Democracy in Thailand?" that was published on 18 May 2010 on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpts: "Thailand's fledgling democracy is now all but dead; bloodied and battered on the streets of Bangkok. How did this happen? [...] In the country's rural heartlands Thaksin [Shinawatra]'s policies of universal health care, infrastructure investment, local economic stimulus, and agricultural debt relief were wildly popular. Even the murders that punctuated his bloody 'war on drugs' were applauded by many rural Thais who were fed up with the nightmare of narcotic abuse. To succeed at the ballot box, Thaksin learned to speak the language of rural Thailand in a cadence that alternated between populism and brutality. [...] He was eventually overthrown in the coup of September 2006 and another election was held in December 2007. Thaksin was in exile, but his political allies won again, falling just short of an absolute majority. But the anti-Thaksin forces could not accept this result either and they managed to manoeuvre Abhisit Vejjaiva into power on the back of the yellow shirt occupation of Bangkok's international airport and the dissolution of the pro-Thaksin governing party. [...]

"[T]he underlying motivation of the protesters is clear: they are fed up with having election results overturned. They have gone peacefully to the ballot box three times since 2005 and each time elite forces associated with the palace, the military, the judiciary and Abhisit's Democrat Party, have disregarded their decision. The red shirts have been told that their votes don't count, that they are uneducated country bumpkins, and that they sell their votes to the highest bidder. It is unsurprising that many of them were suspicious about Abhisit's offer to hold yet another election on November 14. There were even more suspicious about the willingness of the forces that back Abhisit to respect its result. [...] Decades of national faith invested in an unelected monarch as the ultimate source of authority and salvation in times of crisis has stunted the development of robust democratic institutions. [...] There is considerable truth to the old joke that Thailand is the world's longest lasting fledgling democracy, and that truth owes much to the fact that the symbolic power of the monarch has overshadowed opportunities for elected politicians to manage national affairs."

Andrew Walker is a Senior Fellow and Nicholas Farrelly is Associate Lecturer in the Department of Political and Social Change at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific.

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