Robert Tyler explains the background to the current political unrest.
Thailand is in the middle of a power struggle. The South-East Asian country, whose political system is not too dissimilar from our own, in turmoil as the Shinawatra government tampers with both the constitution and basic democratic principles.
Thailand is in the middle of a power struggle.
The protests in Bangkok that started a few weeks ago were, at first, over the passing of legislation that offered an amnesty for the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of current Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, The former Prime Minister had fled the country in 2006, halfway through a corruption trial, after having being overthrown by a military coup. The legislation that acted as an amnesty overturns, in effect, the principle of the rule of law.
However, the turmoil and protests go back much further, with roots in more than just this one policy. Since the coup in 2006, Thailand’s political scene has been chaotic. Thaksin Shinawatra had been operating a relatively successful government based on a combination of Third Way and Keynesian policies that had been branded Thaksinomics. It was a mainly populist approach to politics that aimed to appease the majority of rural voters, at the expense of free market practices and alienating the growing middle class.
From 2006-2008, the military ruled Thailand. The election in 2008 produced a coalition that brought in the Classically-Liberal Thai Democrat Party. The Democrats governed Thailand from 2008-2011 with relative success: the economy grew, and Thailand began to interact more with its regional neighbours. Then, in 2011, Thaksin’s sister was elected on a landslide and returned to the Keynesian approach, but was more profligate than her brother. She spent more than her brother, and introduced reckless policies such as the “My First Car” subsidy that led to congestion and rising fuel prices. Her foreign policy was also less focused on regional relations and more on relations with African countries.
From 2006-2008, the military ruled Thailand.
The best way to sum up both the Shinawatra administrations is Blair-like. So it’s easy to see why people are a little more than merely thoroughly disillusioned with their government. With attacks on constitutionalism, the democratic process and the growing middle class, it’s obvious why the Thai people are frustrated. And with the Army gearing up to intervene again, the future looks bleak. However this could be avoided if several measures are taken now.
First the Army must agree to leave the political scene alone and assure its independence, something they haven’t done since the 1932 coup.
Secondly, elections must be called to let the people decide.
Thirdly, the rule of law must be respected: Thaksin and others guilty of corruption must face up to what they have done.
If they follow this advice, then I have no doubt that Thailand could easily become a stable liberal democracy and a force to be reckoned with in South-East Asia.