Thailand: The King and ''Him''


Sripan Rattikalchalakorn

Leading world broadcast media such as ABC, BBC and CNN reported on the coup that took place in Thailand on 19 September 2006. Coups are unacceptable in democratic societies. Foreign investors and supporters of democracy viewed this coup with disfavour. But the Thai media and Thai people saw it as a necessary evil in order to stop what they saw as 'his' misuse of the democratic system. A large number of Thai's believed that 'he' was exploiting state power and influence to enrich 'his' kith and kin. They also accused 'him' of abusing human rights and lese majeste. A significant feature of this coup, however, was that the media didn't see any blood on the streets. Ironically, this contrasts with the major blood-letting associated with wars that have been prosecuted by democratic countries. Coups are ingrained in the history of Thai politics. Paradoxically, Thailand has experienced almost 20 coups over the last 70 years since the country adopted democracy. This was not the first Thai coup and some Thais don't expect it to be the last - at least under a half-baked democracy.

Have we Thais learned something from all these coups? Perhaps we have learnt something about the business and financial world. In the aftermath of every coup, the country and its people seem to improve a bit of this and a bit of that mainly relating to foreign business and governments. And business largely goes on after each coup. Viewing this through the Thai lens of the 'take it easy' approach, the trail of coups represents a process of 'trial and error' - which in many other countries would be a parliamentary political learning process. We cannot hope that the Thais could microwave democracy like a ready-to-eat frozen dinner. Other countries have been cooking their democracy pottage for several hundreds of years. The Thais need more time to observe and adjust.

We see children falling down again and again, while learning how to stand and walk. By the same token, both voters and rulers take time to absorb the tenets of democracy. Thailand has not developed the checks and balances that would have minimised the opportunity for a populist leader to exploit the system. While coup-d'etat are not a democratic way to solve a political crisis, it is possible that in a half-baked democracy there could be some situations that a democratic solution is unavailable or illegal. This is the belief of many democrats who unwillingly supported the circuit-breaking coup that took Thailand out of what seemed to be an intractable constitutional crisis.

By early November 2006, foreign investment and financial institutions were indicating confidence in Thailand's economy for 2007. The Thai media feels a little more relaxed in the aftermath of the coup. And no matter how negative the views of the foreign media, the Thai people place the highest value on the opinion of their King who they know has the interests of Thailand in his heart.

WATCHPOINT: Democratic solutions to political crises may not always be possible in half-baked democracies. How do we ensure that undemocratic leaders do not take the reins of power in half-baked democracies thereby stifling their maturation? In the Thai context we must be thankful for the political wisdom of the crown.


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