Southern Weekly on Thailand and democracy

Central World department store burned by less-than-peaceful protesters (NYTimes)

As we enter the lovely weeks leading up to the anniversary of June 4th, tanks and armored personnel carriers are once again rolling through the streets -- this time in the 'messy democracy' of Thailand.

The Chinese media have covered the protests rather heavily, with the implicit message frequently being that chaos is the expected outcome when developing countries embrace democracy. Seeing connections being drawn between Thailand and China's own internal democracy dialogue, Southern Weekly's editorial board published a debate, translated below:

Are the Thai riots a disaster brought on by democracy?

by the Southern Weekly Editorial Board

Entering the month of May, the turmoil in Thailand suddenly changed. The government finally decided that it could no longer tolerate the "Red Shirts" who have been persistently demonstrating for two months, demanding the resignation of the current prime minister. With armored vehicles rolling through the streets of Bangkok, the conflict finally intensified. The streets ran with blood, and several hundred people have already been killed and injured. Commenting on the chaos in Thailand, some compatriots naturally sum things up by saying "all of this was brought on by democracy." Is it really that simple?

In favor: One could say that Thailand is a typical example of how democracy is unsuccessful in developing countries. To attain power, every political group fights for the stage and frequently engages in overly dramatic street politics, during which bloody violence is not uncommon. The example of Thailand shows that while a democratic system can be good, it is not necessarily suitable for every country. Moreover, under some situations, democracy is exactly what causes social unrest.

Against: The Thai case was not caused by any fault of democracy, but rather by some people who destroyed the country's democratic underpinnings. This round of political unrest began in 2006 when the military staged a coup d'etat and overthrew the democratically elected administration of Thaksin Shinawatra. Afterwards, the democratically elected prime ministers Somchai Wongsawat and Samak Sundaravej – both from Thanksin's camp – were forced from office by the "Yellow Shirt" movement and replaced by Abhisit Vejjajiva. This naturally led to the dissatisfaction of the pro-Thanksin "Red Shirts." If election results are not respected, then a democracy ceases to be a democracy. The people's use of non-democratic methods becomes inevitable.

In favor: The vote of the majority becomes the violence of the minority. Those who're unwilling to play act shamelessly. Order is entirely obliterated, not to mention economic and social development. Doesn't this show that democracy is not necessarily suitable for a country like Thailand?

Against: A modern democratic system is not just about voting -- the decision of the majority is just the part we can easily see. If the rules of democracy are to have any authority, a country must have the complete set of powerful democratic foundations and institutions: a constitutional government presided over by an independent court system, and – most important – the rule of law. These systems require practice and exploration; citizens' democratic habits must also be cultivated. You shouldn't expect that a country will be able to explore this complete set of democratic rules and practices under an authoritarian or autocratic system.

In favor: For Thailand, a developing country in the midst of a transformation, democracy is not a cure-all. Development is the only unassailable course of action. A country should boldly adopt whatever system encourages development, whether democratic or not. If we're always fighting about democracy and society is unstable, how can a country develop?

Against: Democracy has never been able to solve every problem. The key point of democracy is that it gives every social interest group a fair stage to play the game. Everyone plays by the same civilized rules, and the law – not any one person – is the highest judge. We all play openly, not in the dark. Seeing South Korean and Taiwanese representatives frequently argue and fight, some people say that democracy is too chaotic. But actually, this might be the political transformation that developing countries require. Indeed, even though playing the game openly is no longer elegant, it is sure better than having any type of secret politics. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. For we don't know what's growing in a corner hidden from sunlight.

Concluding thoughts:
Behind the political conflict in Thailand is a divide between 70 percent of the population, making up rural residents and the cities' poor, and the remaining 30 percent, comprised of the middle class, intellectuals, and the aristocracy. Thailand has already used a democratic system for many years. Thais who are used to this system are unlikely to return to the ways of the past. Therefore, each side has no choice but to work hard to establish the authority of the rule of law. Of course, this road is destined to be difficult.

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There are currently 3 Comments for Southern Weekly on Thailand and democracy.

Comments on Southern Weekly on Thailand and democracy

Will anyone be surprised when the same papers sign the praises of a "pro China" junta in Thailand in the next few years?

"Will anyone be surprised when the same papers sign the praises of a "pro China" junta in Thailand in the next few years?"

Yes - I would be pretty much suprised. Southern Weekly is most famous for it pro democracy stance (like this article) and criticism of the chinese government.

Thailand has never had a democracy.

For example, there is a law that makes it a crime to criticize or discuss the Royal Family.
Ruling Politicians have used the law to silence anyone who disagrees with them as being anti-monarchists.

In addition websites and newspapers that don't agree with the government have been routinely censored and shut down in Thailand.

Add to that the 18 military coups that Thailand has experienced in 70 years...and you don't come up with a picture of a healthy democracy.

Thailand is a very authoritarian country where school children are taught to obey their teachers without question. Children grow up in a very undemocratic environment where they are taught to listen and obey instead of question and challenge. Very unhealthy in a democracy.

In addition Thailand is has a strict class structure where the rich and powerful are called "Khun" and "Ton" and the poor and working class are called "new" and "nong". This class distinction fosters the notion that you are important if you are rich but of little consequence if you are poor. Hence the recent breakout of clashes between the Bangkok elite and the poor rural folks from the northeast.

Add to that the culture of corruption and bribery...where , if you have influence or money you can get you out of a traffic ticket and cut through the red tape

Democracy is much more than one man, one vote.
It is a respect for we each have for our fellow man regardless of their social status or economic wealth.
It is respect the rule of law that says that we all have to follow the same rules no matter who if we are rich or poor.
It is a belief that nothing is beyond criticism or scrutiny...even the Royal Family.

Those who say that Democracy is Thailand is a failure need to examine whether Thailand has ever been a true democracy.

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