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|Thailand - A Fragile Democracy|
Corriere della Sera - April 14th 2009
To a visitor,
This past weekend riots in the resort town of Pattaya forced the abandonment of two major regional summit meetings, which were due to be attended by leaders of all the big powers of Asia, and then the capital Bangkok was paralysed by protests that descended into violence, as Thai soldiers opened fire on the crowds.
It is not the first time that the apparent peacefulness of
Such chaos would be farcical if were not so tragic.
A good analogy would be the famous electoral stalemate in the
This lack of respect for Thai political institutions, be they parliament, elections or the law courts, arises in part from the fragile history of Thai democracy. With a military coup on average once every four years, and constitutions being regularly rewritten, it is not surprising that Thai institutions are not respected. But this is where the deeper, long-term cause must be brought in to the analysis. It arises from the role of the seemingly revered monarch, the 81-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has been on the throne for more than 62 years.
The anti-Thaksin “yellow shirts” claim to be royalists. They even claim to be supported by members of the royal family. They accuse Thaksin Shinawatra of trying to build up his personal power while he was prime minister, at the expense of the monarchy. When Mr Thaksin, one of the country’s richest businessman, was elected in 2001 his party won an absolute parliamentary majority and he became the first Thai prime minister to serve a full term in office.
The king himself, however, remains silent, supposedly above politics. Yet that silence is itself tremendously noisy. For by failing to condemn the “yellow shirts” who brought down the elected government last year, the king has thereby undermined
There is only one person who can solve this situation, and that is the king. He has to speak out, but must also find a way to reach a compromise with Thaksin Shinawatra, perhaps even bringing him back to the prime ministership under new and agreed constitutional restraints. Opinion polls suggest that if new elections were held today, Mr Thaksin would win them again. The king must not ignore that political reality. The alternative is continued chaos, quite possibly revolution.