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Views from outside Thailand: “Ouster” of Thaksin a blow to Thai democracy?

Updated On: Apr 11, 2006

While the Bangkok Post and the Nation newspapers regale the Thai population with stories of how democracy has triumphed with Thaksin’s resignation, the 16 million Thais who voted for him obviously do not share such joy. To them, democracy has failed to heed the people’s voice and succumbed to mob rule –one which comprises the Bangkok elite.

Disapproval is clearly shared by other international observers who bemoan the blatant disrespect of Thaksin’s 57% victory at the polls.

Thailand’s Southeast Asian neighbours are concerned over the potential ramifications of the democratically-elected being forced out of office by mass protests. This has happened in the Philippines where “People Power” ousted corrupt and inept leaders, but the ousting of Thaksin amid an economically-sound Thailand seems unjustified.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar, a Malaysian political analyst, president of the International Movement for a Just World and a former opposition leader said, “If you allow dissidents, however big or important, to remove an elected leader, what message are you sending? What does this mean to a fledgling democracy?” 

Indonesian political observer Arbi Sanit said, “Thaksinomics has turned Thailand into one of the more dynamic economies in South-East Asia, and the Thais know it.” Nonetheless, he raised reservations about Thaksin’s strongman tactics regarding media freedom and other civil liberties, saying that “whether he has crossed the line is something for the Thais to decide,” Dr Amir Santoso of the University of Indonesia's Social and Political Sciences faculty blamed the urban elite and intellectuals who resent the erosion of their influence against Thaksin’s rising power. “The way they are going about trying to get him removed is undemocratic and amounts to mob rule… If they get their way, who is to say that the demands of the next mob should not be equally justifiable? Even in post-Suharto Indonesia, where we have demonstrations for almost everything, mob rule does not ultimately decide who is in and who is out.” 

Others see Thailand as the political maturation of the middle class who insist on legitimacy. Marc Gopin, director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University outside Washington, said he thought the protesters had the right motivations. “The real benchmarks of democracy are the rule of law, human rights, free speech, among other things. The elite of Thailand understand well that this man was taking advantage of the weaknesses inherent in electioneering.”

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said, “We have an elected prime minister who has been forced to step down due to a lack of legitimacy, despite an overwhelming mandate… winning a big landslide does not allow a prime minister to engage in corruption, to violate the constitution. You cannot just do anything you want because you won the election.” Still, Thitinan also warned against relying on street protests as “the potential drawback is that if they don't do it properly, [Thailand] will get into a situation… like the Philippines… [making] for an unworkable government.”  

Overall, the triumphalist observation that democracy was becoming entrenched in Asia with the slew of elections occurring in 2004 is rapidly fading. Satyabrata Rai Chowdhuri, a former Oxford don of international relations, has commented that Thaksin’s resignation in the face of his majority mandate gives weight to the view that ‘the more “vigorous” Asian democracy becomes, the more dysfunctional it is.’

Sources: 

Voices from around the region about ‘mob’ rule (New Straits Times, 26 March 2006)

Thailand: Mob rule?  (Straits Times, 1 April 2006)

Have protesters destroyed democracy in Thailand? (AFP, 7 April 2006)

Thailand's revolt shows growing pains in Asia's fledgling democracies (Reuters, 8 April 2006)

Vigorous democracy does itself an injury (The Australian, 10 April 2006)







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