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Asean Affairs   19 December 2013

Democracy Failure in Thailand

 By SUN Xi

 Thailand, an ever democratic icon in Southeast Asia, is in a political deadlock again, which severely jeopardizes its democracy.

 Asking for Less Democracy?

 The recent political confrontation was triggered by an risky attempt by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government to pass an amnesty bill, which was intensively criticised as a botched trial of opening the door for the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the older brother of Yingluck.

 Although Yingluck has dissolved the parliament and called for new elections in next February so as to calm down the current crisis, opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban, has firmly rejected the proposal. Instead, Suthep has called for power to be transferred to an unelected “People’s Council”, which is designed to fix those flaws of various existing laws before a “fair” general election will then be held.

 While most political protects (expect the one in Egypt) around the world are struggling for more democracy, Thailand seems on the opposite direction, where not only a democratically elected government is denied, but also democratic elections are rejected.

 Populism vs. Elitism

Thai society has been politically divided into “Red Shirts” and “Yellow Shirts”, which supports the ruling Pheu Thai Party (PTP) and the opposition Democrat Party respectively. The “Red Shirts” are predominantly poor farmers and rural workers from outside Bangkok, while the “Yellow Shirts” are mainly urban middle class and pro-royalist elite groups based in Southern Thailand and Bangkok.

 Thailand ranks as the most unequal in Asia. The huge rich-and-poor gap shapes the Thai society into a pyramid structure, in which the relatively poor “Red Shirts” represent the 70% majority of Thai society and welcome populist policies, while the “Yellow Shirts” are the 30% elite minority.

Therefore, based on the one-person-one-vote principle, it is not a surprise that the popular Pheu Thai Party (PTP) along with its previous the People's Power Party (PPP) and Thaksin's original Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party have comfortably won most of the past elections since 2001. That is also why the opposition party has rejected the next February elections in which it expects to lose again.

 Neither “Red” Nor “Yellow” Works

 Instead of another coup, Thailand’s influential military has confirmed its support for a “fair and clean” elections in next February. However, if the politically polarised Thai society cannot reach a real reconciliation and a general consensus on democracy, whatever the future election result is will not be sustainable.

 Then, “Red” and “Yellow”?

 Now that the “Red” and the “Yellow” are incompatible and unwilling to accept each other’ rule, then just separate the people under two governments. Of course, such bold but outrageous idea will never be accepted, because it will separate the Thai nation. However, if such a long standing confrontational politics continues, Thai society can only enjoy the de jure solidarity.

 How about “Red” with “Yellow”?

 Two governments will definitely not be acceptable, then how about one single coalition government, even including the opposition Democrat Party? It seems another silly idea, but it worked in other countries such as Greece and Albania as a transitional solution to dissolve social hatred.
 However, do the Thai ruling and opposition parties have the political courage and wisdom to do so? Likely no, due to their different but deeply vested interests, as well as those from military and royal family, although all of them will suffer from a chaotic Thailand.

Thailand may not be lack of democratic elections, but those Thai political parties seem lack of understanding the nature of a good democracy, where most responsible and clean political parties should try to unite the whole society and maximise the interests for all citizens, rather than serving certain groups only.

“Democracy” seems to have failed in Thailand, but it will still eventually be proved to be the only sustainable way to end the vicious coup-election-coup circle.

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More


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