People’s coup by Thailand’s Minority; the Democrats and electoral democracy
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People’s coup by Thailand’s Minority; the Democrats and electoral democracy

Thitinan in WSJ with an op-ed with the headline “A People’s Coup by Thailand’s Minority”:

Never has Thai politics degenerated so quickly from uneasy accommodation to outright insurrection.

In response, Mr. Suthep has formed and led the “People’s Democratic Reform Committee” to occupy government ministries and state agencies. Their objective is to take back the reins of government and institute political reforms that would elevate the role of the monarchy in Thai democracy. His People’s Committee also has told television stations to broadcast only its activities, not the government’s.

For its part, the Yingluck government has matched Mr. Suthep’s provocation with so much restraint that it looks inept and impotent. The authorities have thus far hardly resisted protesters’ takeovers of state installations for fear of violence and bloodshed.

In 2008, a similar street protest led by royalist yellow shirts against a pro-Thaksin proxy government faced police dispersal after the army refused to follow government orders. Two protesters died, and the police became the bad guys ever since. The Queen presided over the funeral of one of the two protesters. This time, the Yingluck government knows that it cannot survive if there is bloodshed of any kind in the streets.

Supported by the roughly two-fifths of the voting electorate who have lost successive elections to Mr. Thaksin’s parties, Mr. Suthep’s civilian putsch has brought Thailand to yet another brink. His best hope is for a government overreaction and ensuing violence, prompting an outside intervention from the army or the judiciary to restore order and break the deadlock.

Many Thais want the Democrat Party to do better in the electoral arena and parliament. The Democrats boycotted an election in 2006 and may do so again to lay conditions for an outside intervention. Their core supporters need to revamp the party with new leadership, new policy ideas, and renewed commitment to parliamentary democracy. If the Democrats fare better at the polls, they will be less likely to resort to street-based and extra-parliamentary outcomes.

Elections are not a panacea. Majority rule must accommodate more minority grievances. The lawmaking standards and personal integrity of Thai politicians must be improved. Endemic corruption as seen during the Thaksin years must be vigorously tackled. The impartiality of checks-and-balance institutions, such as the Constitutional Court and the anti-corruption commission, must be strengthened. If there is a longer-term silver lining, Mr. Suthep’s brinkmanship and daring putsch and Ms. Yingluck’s ability to survive and to emerge more from Mr. Thaksin’s shadows may actually bode well for democratic entrenchment in Thailand.

BP: The problem for the Democrats now is that the protests are hurting their “brand”. Yes, they can try to disassociate themselves from the protests, but the links between the party and the protest movement are undeniable. In 2006 and 2008, there was some separation between the Democrats and the PAD, but Suthep and other leaders including Satit are not outsiders with just connections to the Democrats. Suthep has been the main man behind-the-scenes for a decade for the Democrats and has spent decades in the party. The other key leaders are also long-time Democrats.

Now, it would be unfair to hold the senior Democrats personally responsible for Saturday as they could plausibly say we didn’t know what would happen in advance. However, once it happened, they have remained silent. The last two days has seen additional violence from protesters, but still silence. While the Democrats can argue that Puea Thai took the same position and turned a blind eye to what some reds did in 2010 in regards to violence, this is where an argument of comparison ends.

In 2008, the “New Politics” proposal was made by the PAD, but the “People’s Assembly” proposal is being made by Suthep and the protest movement. The People’s Assembly proposal is vague, but the details provided made it inconsistent with electoral democracy.* It would not be possible to defend as “democratic” anywhere. Korn at least maintains some credibility by providing some criticism of it. Being the sole voice speaking out cannot be easy and given the silence of others, he should be commended. However, Abhisit, Surin, and many others in the party have left themselves vulnerable. This is not like the coup in 2006 when they could say we didn’t know about it and it was only after it was over that they could take a position. This time we have had well over a week since Suthep’s People’s Assembly proposal and essentially a movement trying to remove an elected government by force.

Suthep and the protesters don’t want elections, as they can’t win, they want an unelected body to re-write the rules of the government and to become the government.  It is though those in the Democrats are waiting to see which way the wind blows. If somehow Suthep succeeds expect them to jump on the bandwagon in support of the “revolution”, but the time to speak out against this proposal is before the failure of the rally (if it fails of course!). The Democrat’s silence is tarnishing their reputation that they believe in electoral democracy. This stain on their reputation will stay with them for a long while if they continue to remain silent.

*In short, if a People’s Assembly is based on professions then those in the lower classes of society would be substantively disadvantaged. A minority would have control over the majority and it would be based professions only.