Sunday, March 29, 2015
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Thai coup leaders’ goal: Democracy on their terms

By
June 18, 2014 |

BANGKOK — From the day Thailand’s military coup leader seized power last month, he has promised unspecified reforms to restore stability and return to civilian rule and democracy. Yet, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has mentioned a striking obstacle to a “fully functional democracy” – elections.

According to the general, elections themselves have contributed to years of bitter political division and sometimes-violent street protests in Thailand. The military says intractable turmoil forced it to step in and topple a government for the second time in a decade.

“We need to solve many issues, from administration to the budget system to corruption,” Prayuth said in a recent radio address, “And even the starting point of democracy itself – the election.”

He continued, “Parliamentary dictatorship has to be removed. All these have caused conflict and unhappiness among Thai people.”

The statement was the strongest sign yet of what many analysts suspect is the true aim of the May 22 coup: limiting the impact of future elections in Thailand by relying more on appointed institutions or some other formula to limit majority rule.

The elected government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was weakened by six months of often massive protests and a succession of court rulings. Anti-government protesters blocking polling places and a subsequent court ruling scuttled February elections that Yingluck’s party had been widely expected to win.

Opponents of the ousted government are intent on removing the influence of Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire former prime minister who was himself ousted in a 2006 military coup. He has lived in self-imposed exile for years to avoid serving time for corruption charges he says were politically motivated, and it was a proposal to grant him amnesty that sparked the protests against his sister’s government.

Thaksin’s supporters have won every election since 2001, to the ire of many in Thailand who see him as a corrupt demagogue who abuses power and buys votes with populist promises.

The general didn’t explain what he meant by “parliamentary dictatorship,” nor has he elaborated on any specifics of reforms, but he made clear his opinion that the current electoral system was not working.

“They always say ‘reform,’ and what does ‘reform’ mean? At one level, it means get rid of Thaksin, his people and control his power base,” said Thongchai Winichakul, a Thai scholar and professor of history at the University of Wisconsin.

Support for Thaksin is strongest among poorer, rural Thais, particularly in the country’s north and northeast. His opponents are concentrated in Bangkok and the south, and are more likely to be wealthy or middle-class.

“In their view, people keep electing the wrong government. There is the core of it,” said Duncan McCargo, professor of Southeast Asian Politics at Britain’s University of Leeds, said of the anti-Thaksin forces who have repeatedly turned out into streets, taking over government buildings and once even occupying Thailand’s international airport for a week.

The most recent protesters, led by a former leader of the main opposition party, Suthep Thaugsuban, complained of “the tyranny of the parliamentary majority” and called for setting up an unelected council to usher in reforms. That roughly matches the plans of the junta – officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order – though for the moment it is promoting “happiness” and reconciliation as it cracks down on all forms of dissent.

It is unclear how coup supporters intend to reform Thai democracy, but Thongchai expects they will attempt to balance the popular vote of the electorate with the wisdom of what is known as the “khon dee,” or “virtuous people.”

“The most important matter to those who speak of traditional principles is rule by the virtuous.” Thongchai said. “Harmony and consensus is supposed to be the behavior of this rule by the virtuous because the ‘subjects’ are supposed to be grateful and loyal to the virtuous.”

Many opponents of the ousted government say they are the ones who stand for true democratic values, and that it is Thaksin’s brand of roughshod politics that goes against traditional Thai values of harmony and consensus, as columnist Tulsathit Taptim suggested in a recent article for the Nation newspaper.

“A ‘winner takes all’ democracy is too much for Thailand. It makes the losers sour and the triumphant side do whatever is necessary to keep the status quo,” Tulsathit wrote, adding, “This style of democracy is not totally democratic, at least over here.”

Or as Prayuth said in his speech June 6, saying, “We understand that we are living in a democratic world, but is Thailand ready in terms of people, form and method?”

From 1932, when Thailand became a constitutional monarchy, until 2001, when Thaksin was swept into office, the country was for the most part ruled either the army itself or, later, a select group of politicians who, while elected, were closely aligned with the country’s elite. Thaksin, a former policeman turned telecoms tycoon, upset the status quo in the eyes of many by amassing power for himself and refusing to give it up. He has remained powerful even from his current home in the United Arab Emirates; when his sister’s Pheu Thai Party rose to power in 2011, it employed the slogan “Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts.”

Thaksin’s opponents, unable to beat him at the ballot box, have used other methods to counter him. After the last military coup in 2006, a new constitution was written that made the Senate partially appointed, though the House of Representatives remained a fully elected body. The Senate, in turn, appoints judges and leaders of other institutions who have largely been viewed as anti-Thaksin.

“In many ways, this coup is an extension of the 2006 coup, which many in the military see as a failure in that it didn’t go far enough in eliminating the Thaksin network,” said Michael Connors, a scholar in Malaysia.

Apparently, Thailand’s coup leaders still haven’t figured out how to restore at least the appearance of democracy while avoiding yet another election victory for Thaksin supporters, said Charles Keyes, a longtime scholar on Thailand at the University of Washington who has written a book on the rise of the populist movement in Thailand’s northeast.

“What the military has to do is to be seen as restoring democracy or else they are going to be a pariah. There has to be some movement in that direction and I think there will be movement in that direction,” Keyes said. “But whether it will be really restoration of democracy as most of the rest of the world would see it — well, that is the question.”

Another question: Will Thailand’s next version of democracy be accepted by the millions who keep voting for Thaksin-allied parties?

“Many things have changed in Thailand. Measures that may have been acceptable even a few years ago may well not be today,” said Michael Montesano, co-coordinator for the Thailand program at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. “If the result is something that many Thais see as undemocratic, then that is a recipe for more instability.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | No comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

.

Solano News

Vanden girls end stellar season

By Brian Arnold | From Page: C1 | Gallery

 
Vanden High library project nears completion

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Cheers for Jupiter – and roller derby

By Brad Stanhope | From Page: A2, 2 Comments

 
Vacaville police make arrest after pursuit

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3, 3 Comments | Gallery

 
Red Cross volunteers help assemble first aid kits

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3 | Gallery

PG&E helps replace stolen equipment

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3

 
Justin-Siena names new principal

By Bill Hicks | From Page: A3

Event benefits child who attends Cambridge School

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5 | Gallery

 
Free paper shredding option returns to Fairfield

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5 | Gallery

Vacaville bridal, quinceanera show a hit

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A5

 
Tips on hydrozoning your garden

By Tina Saravia | From Page: B8, 1 Comment

Best barometer of investment success: Wealth

By Mark Sievers | From Page: B8

 
 
Fairfield police log: March 27, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
Suisun City police log: March 27, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

.

US / World

Gang chief, international fugitive among dozens paroled

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Experts: Sex bias case will embolden women despite verdict

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

Crash victim’s father calls for more focus on pilot welfare

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
Popular Yosemite National Park lookout opens early in season

By The Associated Press | From Page: A9

 
Bird flu found in a top Minnesota turkey producing county

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Some British Airways frequent flier accounts miles breached

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

7 shot and injured at Florida spring break house party

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Boko Haram kills 39, legislator, disrupting Nigeria election

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

Official: Al-Shabab siege at Somali hotel ends, 24 dead

By The Associated Press | From Page: A11

 
Islamic fighters led by al-Qaida in Syria seize major city

By The Associated Press | From Page: A13

 
.

Living

Today in History: March 29, 2015

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: March 29, 2015

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

Pope finds popularity and dissent at 2-year mark

By The Associated Press | From Page: C3

 
Truth does not change

By The Rev. Art Zacher | From Page: C3, 1 Comment

Horoscopes: March 29, 2015

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: B8

 
Daughter choses stepdad over father to walk her down the aisle

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: B8

.

Entertainment

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST-SELLERS

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Second Julie Andrews memoir expected in 2017

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Chrissie Hynde memoir coming in September

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B12

.

Sports

Wisconsin heads to Final Four after 85-78 win over Arizona

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Burns scores winner in SO to lift Sharks past Flyers, 3-2

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Warriors beat Bucks 108-95, clinch top seed in West

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Gordon, Earnhardt among the winners and fans of Martinsville

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Prince Bishop wins Dubai World Cup, California Chrome 2nd

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Serena Williams easily wins opening match at Miami Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Power leads Penske sweep in qualifying for IndyCar opener

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Revolution win first of season, beating Earthquakes 2-1

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jenest pitches SCC baseball team to shutout of Contra Costa

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B2

 
AP sources: Texas fires coach Barnes after 17 years

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Kazmir, Quintana both strong; A’s beat White Sox 10-4

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Zunino homers twice, but Giants rally to edge Mariners 9-8

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Jimmy Walker leads hometown Texas Open

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

 
.

Business

A glance at women in leadership roles in business worldwide

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

 
For business, more women in charge means bigger profits

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

US drillers scrambling to thwart OPEC threat

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

 
Test trial to use computer servers to heat homes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B14

.

Obituaries

Helen Kalis

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Carol A. Vose

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Robert Roberts

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Janice Jewel Thompson

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Betty Mason

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Tiffany Lyn (Helzer) Kemp

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

Richard F. Coleman

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
James Lee Lewis

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics