The Thai unrest


Much similar to Pakistan, Thailand has been in transition
It is not the ‘Thai Spring’. The country is actually known for military coups. It is a regular feature in that Southeast Asian country. Conditions for a coup have always been created. Politicians are often ousted and brought in many times. Since constitutional monarchy was established in 1932, around 18 military coups have been staged.

The ongoing political chaos has been creating conditions for another coup. Normally demonstrators are loyal to monarchy and incline toward military. Thailand is neither an absolute monarchy nor a complete constitutional monarchy. It is something in between them, existing in that political texture for long. Monarchy could directly intervene in politics, as in 1973 and 1992 to restore political order.

Protestors – thankfully not rebellious – are calling on the ruling party, Pheu Thai Party, to step down to their demands. The protest, however, goes against the will of the majority that wants the government to stay in power. This is a pretty strange situation. One needs to go by democratic credentials – to respect the will of the majority instead of creating an Unelected People’s Council by protestors to elected new prime minister. It cannot be the Unelected People’s Council to elect prime minister. The unwise move could tarnish country’s nascent democracy. Prime ministers are elected through elections.

Military also staged a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when he was attending the UN General Assembly Session in New York in 2006. This time the Thai generals are reluctant to seize power. They might have had a bitter experience in 2006 and they intend to keep away from politics. They have been asking for a political resolution to end the chaos, and might not intervene. The Pheu Thai Party has established good contacts with the royal palace and the military, two powerful institutions in the country.

Shinawatras’ politics matters a lot in Thailand. It has grown stronger after 2006. The ongoing chaos dates back to 2006 military coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accused of corruption and nepotism. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011 – the first woman in country’s high profile politics along with a strong business base and rural support. It was a big comeback for the Pheu Thai Party when its leader was living in self-exile in Dubai.

Economy got much better in the last two decades in Thailand. It is the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. Free water and electricity were provided to villages along with the rice mortgage scheme. People might yet be aspiring for a non-corrupt governance and more political participation. It might not be a politics for power, but a new middle class is on the rise. The old political guards might not subscribe to peasantry and labour participation. The Thai politics was previously dominated by capital Bangkok, army and businessmen. A new touch has been given to the rural participants who are 67 percent of Thailand’s population.

Provinces, especially the populous northeast one, have little say in politics. Today there is prosperity in provinces. They have modern facilities. Provinces want a change and an even greater say in politics. Thaksin Shinawatra boosted the democratic process when he was elected in 2001. The Pheu Thai Party is popular among northeastern peasants. The party gave them a new sense of participation.

Now they want a greater role in determining Thai politics. One the other hand, resurgent Muslims also play a part in Thai politics, which cannot constantly be undermined on account of ethnic cleansing and terrorism. This is another impression one got out of Thailand’s chaos. In fact, it not a real political change but a social change that is rapidly transforming Thai society.

Corruption also cannot be ruled out in Thai politics like other countries in Southeast Asia. Protestors blame the government’s inefficiency in controlling corrupt business practices. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted on account of corruption by the military. Similarly, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been confronting a number of corruption charges, including the rice scandal of US$13 billion, leveled by the opposition.

There are infrastructural projects and loans scams too, opposition alleges. Under the Amnesty Bill, the government tried to exonerate Thaksin Shinawatra of all corruption charges. This brought the people to streets, some experts say. Opposition also says that the last elections were rigged and fraudulent.

The Shinawatras’ have established close contact with Pakistani politicians. Yingluck Shinawatra visited Pakistan in August and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reciprocated the visit in November. Earlier, Thaksin Shinawatra was close to former Pakistani PM Shaukat Aziz. All of them have one thing in common: they are businessmen-turned-politicians.

The Puea Thai Party has been resisting and upholding the credentials of popular democracy. If the party and government were thrown away, it would be equated to the popular Ikhwanul Muslimin in Egypt that was toppled by the army in July. Thailand should refrain from becoming another Egypt. Otherwise, we could not control political mess rising from Southeast Asia to the Middle East when popular consensus was thrown away.

For long, Thailand has been in transition – similar to Pakistan. Just a decade is not necessary for the growth of democracy. It needs decades and centuries. Pakistan’s new democracy is hardly six years old. Thailand experienced the bitter military rule for long. Let democracy to work there.

If a coup took over in Thailand, popular Pheu Thai Party, peasantry, and provinces will receive a set up. At the same time, a stronger move for change has been taking place since 2006. It would take some more time when ruling consensus would emerge in Thai politics. Dialogue must take place within the constitutional framework instead of solving matters in streets, creating conditions for a coup.

Rule of law and majority consensus must prevail. A deeply polarized society can only be unified under consensus. Military should remain neutral in every situation to strengthen democracy in Thailand. Let’s get away from the false wisdom that military coups create political stability. Enough coups have already taken place in that country without bringing political stability. It is time to learn from history than staging another military coup.

Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ISS or of the Government of Pakistan.