Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Thrashed Democracy

Hantu Laut

In 1984 I attended a business conference at Oxford University jointly organised by International Herald Tribune and Oxford Analytica.Discussions and dialogues were centered on the major economies of G7 countries and other emerging economies.My point of interest at that time was the emerging economies of South East Asian countries and the Middle East.

The Asean region was the fastest growing particularly Singapore,Malaysia and Thailand.The region was growing at an average of 7.5% annually.The other important aspect we were looking at, other than the economy, was political stability.For businesses wanting to invest in a foreign country, political stability and bottom line sit at the top of the list of priorities.

Surprisingly, strange as it may sound, the political situation in Thailand today was a correct prediction made at the time we had the conference, some twenty four years ago.

Below is part of the write-up on Thailand in the booklet given to participants of the conference:

"Thai politics are at a point of stalemate.Groups opposed to the continuing dominance of the army--the urban middle class and rural peasantry--are, if anything, more opposed to each other.

Thailand has the appearance of a systemically unstable state, and it is.But paradoxically, Thailand's chronic instability gives it a unique form of long term political stability--no matter how many times the regimes change, and there have been 14 coup attempts in the last 50 years, the ultimate effect, and the type of government, is invariably the same."

The recent civil disorder in Bangkok that pit protesters against the government shows how the urban business elites, the army, the police and elements in the palace were hand in glove to remove a democratically elected prime minister.

The police refused to take orders from the Prime Minister to deal with the protesters in accordance with the law, instead, allowed the People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) to break the law with impunity. The army, usually quick to react in a volatile situation only stood on the sidelines.The PAD protesters seized both airports in the city and virtually closed them down stranding hundreds of thousand of tourists.

The People Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which is predominantly urban and middle class have paralysed Thai politics and the government as part of their campaign to force the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat whom they accused of being a puppet of his brother in law and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawara who was forced to resign under allegations of corruption and abuse of power.Somchai and Thaksin draw their supports from the rural poor which gave both of them convincing victory at the polls.

The sit-in protests which lasted for more than a week which have paralysed the tourism industry finally came to an end with the court ordering the removal of Somchai as Prime Minister and some of his members of cabinet from the government.Somchai was banned from politics for 5 years and his party disbanded for reason of electoral fraud by an executive of the party.

The court had done a fine job of thrashing democracy by submitting to demands of a small group of business elites and the urban middle class and ignored the wishes of the majority, the rural poor.

The political chaos and protests were only confined to Bangkok while other parts of the country were not affected.

What next for Thailand? Will Somchai and his supporters respect the court decision or will there be even bigger political upheavel in the pipeline?

Somchai and Thaksin have strong grassroots in the rural areas.Would there be an agrarian revolution?

Note:For those who are interested to read the one on Malaysia click here.

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