Thailand’s Democratic Erosion by Meagan Abbey @UCLA
Will Thailand’s Dream of Political Stability Come True?
In 1932, Thailand was finally released from the grasp of an absolute monarchy. Once freed from the reigns of the monarchy , Thailand formed a parliamentary system government, modeled after the UK, also known as the Westminster system. Unfortunately the transition into a parliamentary democracy was not suitable for the country, and has caused a pattern of political instability.These patterns of fluctuation in the government has resulted in about 19 coups and close to 20 constitutions to be created since the abolishment of the absolute monarchy, all factoring into the countries democratic erosion. On and off over the course of the past 86 years, “the military has been acting in the name of the monarchy and with the support of the bureaucracy, has repeatedly intervened to overturn election results in an effort to restore power to traditional elites, including itself” (CFR). However just in these past few years, Thailand has seen great political instability through the negative effects of a military coup that has further provoked the democratic erosion.
In 2014, a military coup called the Royal Thai Armed Forces, initiated a strike on the government. After taking control, the coup d’etat established a military dictatorship within Thailand that they called the National Council of Peace and Order. The first order of business included terminating the existing government and Senate. The powers from the executive and legislative branches were then redistributed to the leaders of the military dictatorship and parts of the constitution were repealed; therefore, acting in the manner of an executive coup. The commander of the coup d’etat and self-appointed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha addressed the people claiming that his actions and plans were all meant to help end their suffering: “I can see you suffering. I will take care of you” (Aljazeera).
A year after the coup took over, the military junta (dictatorship) promised that an election in the near future would held to restore the democratic government. The government revealed a “6-4-6-4” plan to democratic recovery: “six months to draft a new constitution, four months to hold a referendum on it, six months to draft organic laws to support the constitution, and four months to campaign ahead of the election” (TheDiplomat). Unfortunately, for the citizens of Thailand this election has still not come. Ironically, the military is adjusting some laws in order to ensure a favorable outcome, which goes against the definition of a democratic election – one that is free and fair. It is now 2018 and the people of Thailand are still waiting for an election, reorder in the government structure, and a return to its democratic ways.
With the new government’s “6-4-6-4” plan came with it a new constitution, which the people are in support of if it will help reduce the political turmoil of the country. However, this new constitution drafted by a successful military coup now dictatorship, contains many oppressive laws like “prohibiting opposition campaigning and repressed “no” supports, making a host of arrests and shutting down “no”-leaning media, as well as critics of the draft serving up to ten years in jail” (CFR). While those who support do so because they are tired of the constant instability and sporadic violence, this constitution would not only pass laws that silence the voice of the people, but it would also be “deteriorating standards on human rights and basic democratic freedoms” (CFR). Attempting to frighten the people of Thailand with armed forces and extreme consequences, the purpose of this constitution isn’t to help the struggling people of Thailand, but rather to enhance the position of the military by legitimizing it and therefore obtaining the power to interfere with Thai politics.
Since the transition to a parliamentary democracy in the 20th century was made to ensure political stability, Thailand has had to face far too many obstacles, causing the opposite reaction, where the structure of the government to bounce back and forth between a democracy and a dictatorship. With the rise and success of so many military coups and constitutions in the past 86 years, the fundamentals and structure of the country’s democracy are slowly deteriorating. One may ask themself, how much longer will Thailand last with the continuation of this cycle – from democracy, to rise and success of military coup, back to restoration of democracy – before Thailand’s time as a democracy has officially come to an end?
Photo by Reuters/ Athit Perawongmetha