What we can learn from the Thai experience PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 26 May 2014 14:18



What  has been happening in Bangkok, Thailand  these past several months is a good topic for reflection on what it means to have the people’s will considered in a democratic government.

Back a few years so we have a perspective. Thaksin Shinawatra was elected into office in  2001 mainly on the support of  the rural poor in the north of the country who wanted his promise of medical services and other social services  for the poor. Thaksin, however, did  not receive the support of the elite in the cities and the military. Although he was an effective CEO-type of leader   he soon found himself charged  and convicted for corruption and went into exile to avoid a jail sentence should he return to Thailand.

In 2011 Thaksin’s younger sister, Yingluck Sinawatra, was elected prime minister in what is generally conceded as a landslide victory. However those who have been against Thaksin  and who see Yingluck as simply a surrogate for him, have maneuvered to bring her down. Thus , the people’s daily demonstrations which began some months back, hurting the Thai economy which is the second biggest in the region. She dissolved parliament and called for special elections which the opposition did not join. Nothing short of her resignation was acceptable and so the daily demonstrations continued.  The Constitutional Court found her and 9 members of her cabinet guilty of violating the Thai constitution  and ordered her out of office. Her political followers could not accept this and so the demonstrations by Yingluck supporters took to the streets in Bangkok and other regions of Thailand. Clashes between the pro – and the anti- Yingluck-  supporters became violent and resulted in some deaths.  Efforts were made to mediate but to no avail. Enter the military , who declared martial law even as it claimed at that time that this was not a coup.

So, how far should expression of the “people’s will” be allowed to go?

An election is usually taken as a democratic way of letting the people express their will in a peaceful  manner. This is what Yingluck tried to do but the government oppositionists claimed  that the Shinawatras  were too entrenched in power and would have controlled the election outcome anyway.  An election would have allowed those in favor of the Shinamatras to vote in support of the Shinamatra candidates. Those against them could vote for the opposing groups. But this did not work out as planned. So it was back to square one for everybody. Until the declaration of martial law. Where this will lead to is anyone’s guess although very likely the military will call the shots in  what is nominally a democracy until  a more acceptable solution is found.

Mature democratic governments in North America and in Europe are not more effective than  those in our part of the world.  But disagreements  over political policies and delivery of services are not as tumultuous as what we have seen in Thailand. Or in the Arab countries since the onset of the Arab Spring.

If we are to learn some lessons from the Thai experience and from the Arab Spring countries we should carefully glean from them how, and how not, to do things.