Democracy: USA powerhouse, Kurt Campbell, says Respect for democracy in Thailand needs support

The Fascist Suthep is running wild, empowered by Abhisit’s Democrat Party hoard of voter based, threatening Democracy in Thailand.

Respect for democracy in Thailand needs support

By Kurt Campbell

The writer is chairman and chief executive of The Asia Group and on the board of the Center for a New American Security. From 2009-13 he served as the assistant US secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs

Much is made in the west of the supposed enigmatic qualities of the east and generally that sentiment really tells us more about a lack of knowledge among westerners than about the complexities of things Asian. However, Thailand may be an exception. Even the most astute observers are regularly caught off guard by political developments inside the kingdom.

I remember speaking to one of America’s most respected Thai specialists seven years ago just before the coup against former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and he sagely advised that all was stable in Bangkok and there were no threats to his popularly elected government. Two weeks later, on September 19 2006, the army was in the streets and the military took power, repeating a tragic pattern that has bedevilled Thailand’s politics for decades.

Jump forward to 2013 and Thailand is again entering an exceedingly complex and potentially dangerous political period. On Sunday Thailand’s main opposition party stormed out of parliament, claiming the illegitimacy of the democratically elected government currently led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Mr Thaksin. These minority legislators are intimately aligned with the protesters who have staged the massive rallies in Bangkok. The opposition has claimed “popular support” even though Ms Yingluck’s Puea Thai party came to power in a landslide 2011 vote that virtually all observers agree was free and fair. This latest intrigue simply disguises a larger truth: for almost 20 years the Bangkok power elite – business tycoons, royalist followers and some senior military – have been unable to acknowledge that the wheel of history has turned.

The opposition Democrats have essentially lost every national election since 1992, and their strategy increasingly appears to rely on undemocratic practices. Rather than building a competitive political opposition that would promote popular political and economic reforms, the anti-Thaksin forces in the courts, military and whisperers around the royal court have driven three democratically elected governments out of office since 2006. These reactionary forces – despite the changing labels and political configurations – are essentially the “yellow shirts”, and it is their allies and foot soldiers who are storming the government ministries.

Ms Yingluck has comported herself admirably both at home and abroad since her election. She is widely respected in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and has managed her country’s diplomacy with a typical Thai subtlety. At home she has tried to build bridges to the opposition. It is true that the government triggered the most recent crisis by introducing an amnesty bill in parliament that among other things would excuse the criminal charges against Mr Thaksin and would allow for her brother’s subsequent return from exile. However, in the face of strong parliamentary opposition, Ms Yingluck withdrew the bill and won a subsequent vote of confidence. This is exactly how parliament is meant to work.

However, the opposition has seized on this as an example of perfidy that cannot be excused and has stoked the crisis by putting its supporters out into the streets. Fundamentally, Thailand’s politics have changed irrevocably. The Thaksins were the first to build a political movement on a rising rural class with aspirations for a more egalitarian Thailand in the future. The old powers – that be in the uniformed elite, in cozy Thai boardrooms, in the privy council and in the courts – must adapt to this new set of political realities, and the opposition that represents them needs to compete in this political arena and not resort to coup plotting.

Amid this domestic turmoil, the international community has been curiously silent. Much has been said about the US and others seeking to advance the ramparts of democracy and rule of law into countries that are as yet undemocratic. Less, regrettably, on the imperative of strengthening already democratic but struggling states. For the US and others, a more public message of support for the democratic processes in Thailand would be welcome and could indeed be decisive in the uncertain days ahead. There are many reasons why even some in the current Thai government might be ambivalent about western public statements of support, from concern that it might somehow complicate the close relationship with China to suggesting undue American interference. The international community should, nevertheless, underscore that both sides in the domestic struggle should commit to electoral and legal means for resolving disputes and not to rely upon unelected “people’s councils” – the preferred venue for governance by key leaders on the Democratic side.

As Asia struggles with difficult issues in North Korea, worries over heightened tensions between Japan and China and evaluates the historic outcomes of Chinese Communist party’s third plenum last month, it is still important to remember Thailand and its churning, struggling and still at risk democratic trajectory.

The writer is chairman and chief executive of The Asia Group and on the board of the Center for a New American Security. From 2009-13 he served as the assistant US secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs

One thought on “Democracy: USA powerhouse, Kurt Campbell, says Respect for democracy in Thailand needs support

  1. From a post I made earlier today on Andrew MacGregor Marshall’s FB page.

    I read your entire treatise within the #thaistory. It’s certainly quite a fascinating work to read for the uninitiated (of which I’m one of many) of Thailand’s intrigues. (I thank Ye kindly for keeping me up all night till the break of dawn). I ran across your name via a post on Michael Yon’s Fb page and decided to look you up to see what you’re all about aside from what Michael’s post indicated. (I guess that you may have seen my response to the ‘stupid rich girl’ of further intrigue on Yon’s FB post).

    A constructive criticism of present day journalism for your perusal: I’ve noticed since leaving the newspaper industry and the Newspaper Guild of New York thirty-some years ago; just how focused the press has become on destroying anyone who doesn’t kow-tow to their collective mindset. Character assassination is the order of the day rather than factual reporting that may or may not achieve the same goal solicited of a publication’s readers. I find it reprehensible and pure and simple laziness to engage in this type of vitriolic writing.

    I also find your take on the current strife in Thailand as a movement to overthrow Democracy fascinating as well.

    Democracy, in its many various forms of manifested Government, ostensibly fails. It is obviously in failure and on a weak string of life support as the Thai protests indicate.

    Those who offer the word Democracy as some sort of mystical, magical solution to ‘we the people’ concerns don’t have a quarter for the clue bus in understanding just what Democracy entails. The recent failure of Democracy in Egypt is but one example of how quickly their form of government went from the Arab Spring to an Arab Winter in very short disorder.

    What I perceive happening now in Thailand is a movement to oust Democracy dying a long and pitiful death of a thousand excruciating cuts. Is replacing it officially with the Oligarchy that is already in place alongside an approving Monarchy comprised of Oligarchs an inherently impudent decision? Undoubtedly so; from my point of view well outside the parameter of Thailand’s inner workings.

    It appears to me that the Thai people are desperately crying out for a solution that will solve their Governmental problems with a stable, prosperous and peaceful Country. The ensuing goals derived from their hard labor will certainly be a huge achievement if they can steadfastly get the work needed done without tearing their Country asunder in a timely process.

    May all Thai’s take the time and effort to repair their internal problems. May a wise approach that fulfills their expectations take place with reserved patience. May the re-manifesting of their form of Government be seen as a fitting & lasting legacy for their prodigies and future generations.

    Perhaps the following link will much better explain Democracies with its comparison to Constitutional Republics as outlined in the piece as the Thai people grapple with their solutions.

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