Suspending democracy won’t help make Thailand more democratic
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Suspending democracy won’t help make Thailand more democratic

Kasit, former Foreign Minister under the Abhisit government, was last month quoted in the Bangkok Post as stating:

In his view, Thailand just needed to suspend, but not abolish, the election to allow greater reform for more power to the communities and the region to take shape over six to 12 months.

In the meantime, he said, “the foreign entities should just shut up their comments.” [BP: Kasit ever the diplomat!]

Rebutting comments by foreign diplomats and media that portrayed the protests as an anti-democracy movement, he said the Yingluck Shinawatra government was a proxy dictated by one person and no longer legitimate.

“Look back to your own history; how painful and cumbersome it was to get rid of mafia and money politics,” said the former diplomat. “Some countries even had genocide.

For us, we are just weeding out these illiberal elements of democracy from the Thai society.

He also said that those who protested at foreign embassies were not making threats but “an expression of will to remind them not to liaise with an illegitimate government.”

Kasit also had an op-ed published by Al Jazeera which has the title Thai opposition: ‘We want to put our house in order, our way’. Key excerpts:

Millions turned to the streets out of an aversion to and revulsion against abusive politics and family authoritarianism. Prime Minister Yingluck was forced to dissolve the House of Representatives and call for an election to be held February 2014.

The election should be postponed until constitutional reform is completed and approved with a national referendum. The Constitution should be further revised to reflect lessons learned from Thaksin’s deft manipulation of politics through money, to reinforce the Rule of Law and put into place checks and balances in order to turn the tide of Thai history away from corruption and dictatorship.

The West’s vested interests should not overshadow their primary moral obligation to the Thai people of promoting and assisting in their democratic advancement.

In the meantime, the Western governments are demanding that the Thai people bow to Yingluck and her government. They seem to believe that elections can solve the democratic ills of Thailand. But has not the West learned that elections alone do not guarantee progress towards genuine democracy? Is this only naïve and superficial thinking? Or is it the result of believing that Thaksin is a true democrat, one who stands firmly behind the capitalist way of running a country?

The wish of the Thai people from all walks of life is to move away from corruption and dictatorship. They want to reform Thailand in every important and pertinent aspect. They want to prevent money politics. They want a democratic Thailand, one of participation and empowerment, and not of domination. They want to live with governance, transparency, and accountability.

They do not want to live under a Mubarak or a Marcos. They do not want to be subservient pawns bowing and scraping under the whims of a family fiefdom.

A sensible government would not hold an election when the country is in an uproar and the people are against it. So let us move forward on the reform process.

BP: The “people” and “they” means a majority? Clearly not, it is a minority although it is clear that is a minority who are large in size and very upset at the status quo.

Faudi Pitsuwan for CSIS:

As much as I sympathize with the protesters, it is difficult to condone their proposal to establish an unelected people’s council, which would effectively suspend democracy. Similarly, the opposition would be better off contesting the Feb. 2 general elections, rather than refusing to get into the game. To their credit, however, the protesters show a genuine desire for tougher laws against corruption, abuse of power, and for devolution of centralized administrative control, among other sensible demands. The major sticking point is that as they try desperately to escape a “tyranny of the majority” they provoke the fear of a “tyranny of the minority” and could turn unruly very easily.


What the world is witnessing in Thailand are (at least) two competing definitions of democracy. One favors process, emphasizes form over substance, and gives undue priority to elections. Thais who subscribe to this definition care less about how democratic the government behaves after elections. The other definition puts more weight on the spirit and substance of democracy and what it ought to bring. Thais who identify with this view do not realize that they cannot achieve truly democratic ends by suspending the electoral process. The most likely correct answer is that a vibrant democracy requires both notions. But it is myopic, if not wrong, to suggest that the first group is more democratic than the second.

BP: Democracy is not just about elections, but it is not a democracy without elections. The second group (PDRC) favors suspending democracy (not effectively suspending, but actually suspending), which Faudi acknowledges, but argues these are two competing definitions of democracy. They are not. Nominating an unelected person as PM to rule the country, having an unelected People’s Council to rewrite the rules, and having an interim constitution – which would not be voted on by parliament and would supposedly mean the tearing up of the current Constitution – imposed by Suthep and the PDRC is not democracy. It is a coup. Substance does matter and an election is a matter of substance and not just form. Yes, the PDRC talk of elections later, but the only way they can actually win is they substantially change the rules to game the system to get rid of “Thaksinocracy” so the Democrats have a chance in winning an election again.

Sarinee Achavanuntakul AKA @fringer had an op-ed in the Bangkok Post with the headline “You can’t suspend a value like democracy”:

In my humble opinion, recent movements of “the great mass of people” led by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) since the middle of his month when Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra dissolved parliament, have crossed the realm of legitimate protest against a “tyranny of the majority” into the dangerous realm of a “tyranny of the minority”.

They are callously ignoring the truism that a true democracy must be democratic in both ends and means.

In short, democracy is a universal value because everyone wants it to be recognised that he or she has equal worth and the same basic rights as everyone else. Any process or plan that does not adhere to this value therefore cannot be called democratic.

I fear that perhaps the real “Thainess” might be the use of the term “Thainess” as an easy excuse to deny ourselves of the universal value. We cannot possibly become more democratic in the long run by resorting to undemocratic means in the short run.

BP: Indeed. Actually, the term suspending is probably the best way to describe the PDRC plan. Less democracy may be the result of the unknown reforms of the people’s council, but it is still unclear exactly what they will do. However, the suspending of democracy is clear.