'Thai-style democracy' won't suit all tastes

'Thai-style democracy' won't suit all tastes

As a major player in political and economic development in the Southeast Asian region, Thailand has been a focal point where clashes and collaborative forces from outside the country always have a role in local politics.

Protesters stand outside the US embassy in Bangkok last month to condemn its support for the Yingluck administration. THANARAK KHOONTON

Of course, in various cases, some can't help but wonder as to why each of the world superpowers reacts differently to democracy in Thailand, and the political rallies led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Each superpower has its own specific national interest when it comes to matters of democracy in Thailand, and the term "national interest" used here does not necessarily convey the cliched concept of a conspiracy theory, which has been used excessively to imply an attempt to lead a certain political ideology and /or to discredit a rival party.

But even if a conspiracy theory is not the case here, what is certain is that each world superpower wants to secure its interests in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region.

A small nation like Thailand will need to strive to protect its own interests and the interests of its people just as much. It's just a fact that everyone knows and accepts.

Since its early days, the PDRC's whistle-blowing rally has been drawing strikingly different reactions from the international community.

The West and Asian giants like China clearly voiced their support for the democratically elected government. Of course, as diplomatic etiquette would dictate, it's not likely any country would say otherwise _ showing support for the democratically elected is a principle they hold dear.

However, it wouldn't hurt to explore what interests the world superpowers gain from the Southeast Asia region, and from Thailand in particular.

China is officially the world's new superpower and during the past two decades the country has fully embraced neo-liberalism and has secured the four key powers as illustrated in the IEPM concept (ideological, economic, political and military powers).

Hence the nation's fast, active, or even aggressive policy regarding matters within the Southeast Asia region including Thailand.

The economic power manifests itself in trade, investment and goods and services transactions in Asean, and in bilateral agreements with these nations.

China's investment in Indonesia and Thailand is noteworthy, taking in agreements such as the Free Trade Area (FTA), investment in the energy sector both for exploration and drilling of petroleum and natural gas, and investments in energy crop plantations such as para rubber throughout the region.

China is the main trading partner even in commodities such as rice, para rubber, and dried longan.It's not likely China as a huge trading partner would give up those multi-billion transactions so easily.

With opportunities for extra political and diplomatic negotiations arising from major trade, China certainly sees a democratically-elected government as a means by which to secure its position.

Some local media went as far as claiming China intervened in local political conflicts by proposing to act as a moderator in talks between the government and the protest leaders.

Chinese-language and English-language media have portrayed the situation as threatening and chaotic, without mentioning the positive sides of the protests, including the fact that they give various opinion groups a chance to voice their views _ an unlikely scenario for the Chinese government to endorse.

The business reports mainly cover complaints from tourists who mourned the loss of opportunity to travel to Thailand without looking at the possibility to feast on the colours and festivities that many others have already enjoyed.

The US, meanwhile, has been voicing its concerns over the state of democracy in Thailand.

As the prototype for democracy worldwide, the US and a number of Western media outlets have revealed a paradoxical reaction towards the situation, fiercely supporting the government while turning a blind eye to the people's movement and civil society whose protest is largely peaceful. The ideological framework and reaction of the US can be traced back to a biased attempt to undermine the notion of "Thai-style democracy".

The rally has been painted as either an anti-democracy movement or festive political carnival, while strong signals have been sent to warn the military against staging a coup.

What's noteworthy is how the US and the Western media, who should have understood the development of democracy in Thailand, failed to grasp the reality that democracy has been prevalent in Thailand through past elections, during each of which the campaign for votes was widespread and regular.

However, Thailand's democracy has unique complications similar to the development of democracy in other nations in Southeast Asia where traces of oligarchy remain influential, as well as local influences and power, and faith in an individual figure.

But when it comes to democracy, denying the passionate political expression of a certain group is certainly not the way to go.

Democracy itself comes in various forms: representative democracy and direct democracy, for example, and it would be either ignorant or narrow-minded if the US and Western media fail to differentiate "anti-government" from "anti-democracy".

The military itself has been refraining from intervention and despite some rally leaders trying to court military involvement, the civic group that has been the backbone of the rally desires no coup.

As for the festive, carnival-like nature of the rally, it reflects a form of development in Thailand's democracy in which any political group and colours can come out and express their political views.

They are the "non-ignorant Thai" whose active political expression is undermined by the attempt of the Western media to brand the protest a festive carnival.

Of course, the US has been enjoying economic, political and military benefits in the Southeast Asia region, but it's the political issue that's perennially on top of Washington's agenda, isn't it?

And the whistles that have been blown to banish authoritarianism and corruption in Thailand are not different from the song of protests sung in North Africa, Turkey and Ukraine.


Ukrist Pathmanand is a senior researcher and Director of Mekong Research Centre of the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.

Ukrist Pathmanand

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