This has reference to your Reuters news item on the opposition victory in Thailand (SN, Jul 4). The victory may come as a surprise to the ruling party coalition and the major western countries, but not to me who grounded with the population. I am a keen follower of Thai politics and recently visited the country. I had expected a comeback by the opposition PT led coalition but not by the massive number of seats it (and its allies) won. Although the PT led coalition has won, the outgoing PP-led coalition is not likely to allow the PT to govern and will bring out its supporters to create instability and force a military or court intervention against the new government and/or its leaders. In fact, that has been the recent history of governance in Thailand with the controlling elite unwilling to accept an outcome that gives political power to the rural poor.
Thailand is a democratic monarchy after years of democratic and military rule. The country has several ethnic groups with ethnic Thais the majority and Chinese the dominant minority. There are also Indians. Thailand is a Buddhist country but there are also Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. Thais often complain that the Chinese community dominates the economy and they repeatedly told me such when I interviewed them, but the Chinese I interviewed say otherwise. Unlike in Guyana, there isn’t outward ethnic tension and the ethnic groups live in harmony. There has been little ethnic violence in the cities. The population loves the ailing king who is held in high esteem. The king is a neutral observer of political governance although some intellectuals feel the king is more often on the side of the bourgeois class. The military does not intervene in removing democratically elected parties unless it has the blessing of the king.
The country has been modernizing over the last 30 years and has experienced rapid growth rates thanks to the stability guaranteed by the military. The military gave way to civilian rule over the last twenty years, but whenever the dominance or the interests of the elite and bourgeoisie are threatened, the military intervenes to protect their interests. The courts also play a role in protecting the interests of the powerful ruling class, especially when a ruling party pursues policies that benefit the poor at the expense of the wealthy. Thailand experienced serious violent protests over the last several years that damaged the economy, which is dependent on tourism. It also has a huge agricultural, manufacturing and fishing sectors.
The violence of recent years in Thailand has to do with protecting the dominance of the ruling class. Powerful business interests fund the mass protests among the poor against successive governments to force a change in government. Parties frequently undergo name change because they are routinely banned by the courts for one kind of fraud after another. Unlike in Guyana, if a party is found to engage in any kind of fraud, including electoral rigging or financial corruption, that party is banned from contesting elections. Candidates are also banned for any kind of fraud or criminal misconduct.
The victor in the election, Yingluck Shinawatra, and her family are loved in the rural areas while the defeated PP party is strongly supported in the urban areas. The rural areas have been neglected by the PP. The irony of Thai politics is the Shinawatras are a charismatic and kind of royal family running a huge business conglomerate. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin, is loved by a majority of the population and he has a magnetic hold over them. He served twice as prime minister. The military ousted him on both occasions. The court convicted him and although he has lived in exile, people still vote for him, giving him victories in the last three elections and again this month. The PP coalition did everything to destroy Thaksin after each victory but have not been successful. Yingluck’s victory last weekend is really a Thaksin victory.
The irony of Thaksin’s politics is he formed a party and contested elections to protect his business interests but ended up fighting for and distributing his wealth to the poor. Unlike the PT and its different incarnates, the PP (and its incarnates) was formed to represent the interests of the poor but ended up pursuing the interests of the wealthy.
And while the military is supposed to protect the interests of the nation and be compassionate to the poor, they side with the wealthy or the ruling class. Unless the wealthy accept the election results and agree to redistribute income to the poor, Thailand will continue to face political turbulence. And the country may be forced to go the polls again.