Thailand is no longer a democracy.
Thailand is becoming starkly divided along political lines between the red shirts and the yellow shirts. What is worse is that the divide has been building for years and neither side seems to be willing to reach out and actually move towards sorting things out. Both sides claim they are in the right and will not work with the other side under any circumstances. Elections are held, contested then annulled. There are coups protests and violence. Once one side wins the cycle starts again with the battle lines redrawn on opposite sides.
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Solving disputes by violence
The 2006 coup and then the crushing of the red shirt movement by force shows that Thailand is not democratic, instead it turns to the military and violence to solve disputes rather than the ballot box and parliament where such disputes should be solved. Democratic governments should be willing to talk to protesters who have legitimate grievances. There were talks ongoing between the protesters through the senate and the red shirts seemed to be willing to compromise
however the government was unwilling without the redshirts first packing up and going home, not a way to start negotiations if you are serious about coming to an agreement. While a cabinet minister initially said
[[Richard Lloyd Parry, Thai stand-off as Red Shirt peace talks rejected but Army stays away, The Times, 18/5/10, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7129696.ece%5D%5D however this quickly changed to
[[Thailand government rejects Bangkok protest talks offer, BBC News, 18/5/10, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8688664.stm%5D%5D
The red shirts also resorted to violence rather than carrying on the protest peacefully and democratically. This undermined their moral high ground and gave the Thai government every right to crack down on them. It is the responsibility of the government to restore law and order and this would occur in any democracy.
[[Joshua Kurlantzick, What the heck is going on in Thailand?, foreign policy, 19/5/10, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/19/what_the_heck_is_going_on_in_thailand%5D%5D
Monarchy has too much power
A democracy does not have someone who is unelected pulling all the strings. This is however the case in Thailand. King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, Thailand's constitutional monarch has been on the throne for more than 60 years. During this time Bhumibhol had made himself into something more than a royal figurehead that would be normal in a constitutional monarchy. He has been accumulating political influence through behind-the-scenes manoeuvring and alliance-building in Thailand's elite political and military spheres.
There are other constitutional monarchs who have some powers while there state is a democracy, this is particularly the case while a state is still becoming a democracy. Britain was reasonably democratic during the 18th and 19th centuries but the monarch still had a lot of power and was consulted on virtually every major issue, making the situation very like the monarchy in Thailand today. However in both cases the driving forces are the people not the monarchy. The monarch is simply riding along with public opinion and seeking to use it occasionally to move the country in the way they would like. In the case of King Bhumibhol his authority is mostly spiritual and moral. For his people, the great majority of them pious Theravada Buddhists he is sacred almost godlike, the King of Righteousness.
Returning stability to the country in such dangerous situations as Thailand is currently in is part of his role. It is precisely in desperate situations like this that the King of Righteousness is expected to make his rare, quasi-magical interventions. This was further enhanced by Bhumibhol managing to create peace in 1992 after a coup, he stopped the fighting and the army returned to their bases.[[Peter Popham, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand: The monarch whose silence is deafening, The Independent, 22/5/10, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/king-bhumibol-adulyadej-of-thailand-the-monarch-whose-silence-is-deafening-1979998.html%5D%5D
This conflict is in some ways a class battle, or else a conflict between ‘haves’ vs. ‘have nots’, those who have benefited from globalisation and economic growth and the urban and rural poor who have been left behind by the economic growth. The poor are prevented from having the political power they would have in a true democracy. They found a ‘hero’ in Thaksin Shinawatra who introduced redistributive policies to help lift them out of poverty. Obviously it is simplistic to suggest that there is an urban/rural divide or even a class conflict between the middle and upper classes against the farmers and working classes there is certainly an element of class struggle. There are many students and businessmen from the middle classes in the protests. There are also divisions in the army, after all Thaksin Shinawatra had been in the army and appointed many of the generals. Maj. Gen. Khattiya Sawasdipol was suspended because he sided with government opponents and was later shot at the demonstrations.
It does not matter that there are some of the elite who support the reds it is still a conflict about giving more political and economic power to the people, Thaskin built his popularity by giving more money to poor rural regions and this was continued by his successors but the people do not see this as a concession to them rather as simply trying to prevent further conflict so the elite can stay in power.[[Kevin Voigt, Rich-poor divide underpins Thai crisis, CNN, 19/5/10, http://edition.cnn.com/2010/BUSINESS/05/19/economy.thai.conflict/?hpt=Sbin%5D%5D
Ultimately there will need to be some kind of reconciliation to sort out this divide.
[[Joshua Kurlantzick, What the heck is going on in Thailand?, foreign policy, 19/5/10, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/19/what_the_heck_is_going_on_in_thailand%5D%5D Only when this happens will Thailand be able to return to being a peaceful and stable democracy.
It is not really a class struggle at all. It is simply a struggle of political networks built up through cronyism. The traditional elite, the yellows, against a new elite that Thaskin was trying to build up. Thaskin’s power base is in Northern Thailand but during his time as PM managed to build up other areas of support and he has managed to turn the poor over to his side.[[Thilo Thielke, A Deeply Divided Society: What Next for Thailand?, ABC News, 24/5/10, http://abcnews.go.com/International/thailand-opposition-camps-cleared-divisions-remain/story?id=10727324%5D%5D
No less a democracy than ever
Thailand has always been an unstable democracy. Before the coup in 2006 Thailand was being run by Thaksin Shinawatra who was rather like PM Silvo Berlusconi of Italy in that he was a billionaire telecoms tycoon with a lot of control over the media. Many also believe he was corrupt and was using the poor for his own ends, so that he could gain and hold on to power so was himself eroding democracy. In turn using that power to help his own companies and increase his own and his family's wealth.[[http://www.asiasentinel.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2480&Itemid=185]] He was rolling back the rule of law and putting his own cronies in to power to help him. He started a war on drugs that was then used to implicate, intimidate and dispose of political opponents, including by targeted killings. At the same time critical media was intimidated and the courts undermined.[[Joshua Kurlantzick, What the heck is going on in Thailand?, foreign policy, 19/5/10, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/05/19/what_the_heck_is_going_on_in_thailand%5D%5D Even before Shinawatra's time in power Thailand was hardly a stable democracy. There had been nine coups between 1971 and 1992.[[http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060919/thailand_coups_060919/20060919/]]
There is a difference between an unstable democracy and a 'democracy' where those in power are unwilling to hold elections because they think they will lose. The first is a failing democracy the second is a failed democracy!
What do you think?