Thailand’s democracy recession
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Thailand’s democracy recession

The WSJ in an op-ed:

Not too many years ago, the world was experiencing a democracy wave of multiple hues: the Orange (Ukraine), Rose (Georgia) and other Revolutions. No more. Though the trend hasn’t received much attention, the world is now experiencing a democracy recession. Could U.S. inattention be one cause?

Each of these cases is different, but all reflect the recent trend. Russia, Thailand and Venezuela have seen democratic reverses. Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey made progress, but the momentum is gone elsewhere in the Mideast and Lebanon’s government must bend to authoritarians in Syria and Hezbollah. The advocacy group Freedom House notes that for four years in a row more countries have seen declines in political and civic rights than advances.

What are the reasons? Hard economic times can lead to harder politics, and some authoritarians have exploited economic anxiety with populism to extend their political power. High oil prices have propped up Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, among others.

The fading interest and example of America have also played a role. While authoritarians proliferated in the post-World War II era, a wave of democracy began in the 1980s as a resurgent U.S. under Ronald Reagan set an example that many wanted to emulate. The trend continued through the 1990s and early part of the Aughts, and there are still 116 electoral democracies in the world, compared with 76 two decades ago.

BP: Actually, this talk of democracy recession reminds BP of an article by Marwaan of IPS in 2007 on democracy recession in Southeast Asia. Below is some quotes from the quotemeister on Thailand:

Perhaps the most dramatic blow to regional hopes for democracy came last September with the military coup in Thailand. But as Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies in Bangkok, explained at the same seminar, the challenge to Thai democracy began before 2006.

“The 1997 constitution was supposed to put a stop to the patronage system, to money politics. It was a people’s constitution,” Pongsudhirak recounted. The constitution “promoted the transparency and accountability of the political system. It augmented the stability and effectiveness of government. It promoted bigger parties and a more stable party system. It gave more authority to the executive branch. It established a party list system in which experts can enter Thai politics without participating in money politics.”

The new Thai constitution also made it possible to go after corrupt politicians. In 2000, the national anti-corruption commission found prospective prime minister Thaksin guilty of assets concealment. When Thaksin assumed power in 2001, however, the corruption trial went to the Constitutional Court, which acquitted the prime minister by a narrow margin.

“After that, the constitution went downhill, leading to the coup and the constitution’s abolition,” argued Pongsudhirak. “The 1997 constitution was supposed to usher Thailand into a promised land but we have wasted a decade.”

Despite corruption charges, Thaksin was and continues to be quite popular within Thailand. “He had his populist platform,” Pongsudhirak said. “He became a threat to the established order. Things get done in a certain way in Thailand. The coup restored the primacy of the holy trinity: the alliance between the bureaucracy, the military, and the monarchy. Thaksin threatened this holy trinity. He won the peoples’ hearts and minds in four or five years. He would win an election if it were held tomorrow by United Nations.”

BP: Thitinan is correct that things were not rosy suddenly until the coup. Things got worse under Thaksin, but BP does not see that things have improved since the coup. Before the coup, Thailand was ranked 66th by Reporters Without Borders on media freedom but this year it has dropped to 153rd. This is not even getting into lese majeste and the computer crime cass against average citizens. According to Transparency International, Thailand is perceived as being more corrupt since the coup. How far will Thailand slide? When will things get better?

h/t BangkokDan