Thai protesters want to elevate role of the monarchy

The protesters are fed up with the electoral system and the money politics that lubricates and underpins Thai democracy.

Note: This article is from the Guardian.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Thailand’s great political divide” was written by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, for theguardian.com on Monday 2nd December 2013 18.29 UTC

Thailand’s political crisis has reached breaking point. It began with protests last month against a proposed blanket amnesty that would have exonerated former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was forced out by a military coup in 2006 and later found guilty of corruption. The government, led by the current prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s sister, has stood its ground and time is running out for the protesters. The tense standoff appears to be losing steam as King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday on 5 December is already being celebrated. Yet the latest round of brinkmanship is unlikely to be the last, as Thailand tries to find a new balance between competing sources of elected and unelected political legitimacy.

This crisis is reminiscent of five years ago when anti-Thaksin demonstrators protested against Thaksin’s proxy government, culminating in the takeover of Bangkok’s main international airport, and the constitution court’s dissolution of the ruling party. The controversy allowed the opposition Democrat party to take power. Then, after two-and-a-half years, Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party, under Yingluck, reclaimed the electoral mandate, in 2011. Once again, anti-government protesters want to end “the Thaksin regime” by occupying government agencies in the capital.

Their leader, Suthep Thuagsuban, a veteran Democrat party MP who resigned to spearhead the protests, has publicly indicated that the protesters’ goal is to replace Yingluck with a “people’s government” and to elevate the role of the monarchy in Thailand’s electoral democracy. The protesters are fed up with the electoral system and the money politics that lubricates and underpins Thai democracy. Exemplified by Thaksin, unscrupulous politicians buy their way to success at the polls and then recoup their “electoral investments” with a hefty profit from corruption when in office.

Suthep’s supporters, comprising roughly two-fifths of the active electorate, want to abandon electoral democracy in favour of unelected figures of integrity and moral authority. They have been calling for “good people” to run Thailand’s government and chart its future direction. Thailand is going through a critical test of its electoral democracy, of how to have sufficient checks for an acceptable balance. While the electoral side of the Thai divide enjoys popular legitimacy and international credibility, the non-elected side emphasises integrity, morality and a sense of noblesse oblige. An elected politician who can move Thailand forward in spite of corruption, – which is seen as common and unavoidable – is the preference of the Thaksin-Yingluck supporters. An unelected and incorruptible technocrat with policy expertise working tirelessly for the common good is the ideal leader for the anti-government protesters on Bangkok’s streets.

In the future, the forces of elected power will have to show more integrity and policymaking skill. They will need to bolster the trust of voters and avoid abuses of power. The forces of appointed and unelected authority will have to come up with electoral legitimacy and policy delivery to cater to the vast majority of the electorate. They need to at least have a chance at triumphing at the polls.

This means Thaksin-Yingluck’s Pheu Thai party will have to be more attentive to the grievances of the electoral minority, whereas the opposition Democrat party will need a complete overhaul of its leadership and policy ideas to have a chance of winning after a 20-year hiatus. And third, fourth and smaller parties will need to be promoted to bring a more level electoral playing field.

Thailand’s latest bout of political crisis is a major improvement on recent years. The military has not intervened, the airport is unlikely to be shut again, and the judiciary has not disbanded a ruling party. These are the positive signs emerging from Thailand’s democratic learning curve. Thailand must build on this progress as it grapples with the right mix of elected sources of power and unelected centres of moral authority.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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