NYT op-ed: Election is about Thailand’s failure to agree on what constitutes democracy
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NYT op-ed: Election is about Thailand’s failure to agree on what constitutes democracy

Philip Bowring in the NYT/IHT:

Yet this election is about Thailand’s repeated failure to agree on what constitutes democracy and on how democracy fits with the older institutions — the monarchy, the military and the centralized bureaucracy. Those failures have been seen in the cycle of elections and coups that has repeated itself since the 1973 overthrow of the Thanom Kittikachorn dictatorship.

But two things are different that make this election especially important and also unlikely to resolve political tensions.

The first is the personality of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled prime minister deposed by a coup in 2006 who is fighting this election through a surrogate party, Pheu Thai, headed by his photogenic youngest sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thailand has had several democratically elected prime ministers but none aimed for, let alone achieved, populist appeal. They got to the top through deal-making between parties. Thaksin, however, was an authentic populist who identified the potential power of the nation’s poorer classes and used his wealth and organizing ability to exploit it. Whether Thaksin was an authentic democrat is another matter.

The second is a broad generational change that manifests itself in different ways. Income and wealth gaps are wide and getting wider but there is no shortage of work; Thailand now relies on about three million foreign workers, mostly from Myanmar, to do its dirtiest jobs. Political awareness has increased thanks to education and the ubiquitous media creating a feeling among many Thais, particularly in the lower income groups, that they are not getting a fair share of the cake. Generational change also affects views of the role of the old institutions at a time when….

BP: A decisive victory for either side in the election will help give legitimacy to that side as Thailand moves forward. Given that the side who is likely to win is Puea Thai, they need to win a clear majority of 251 seats to really put forth the argument that the Thai public agrees with them….