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Democracy in Thailand, Research Paper Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2551

Research Paper

Overview of the problem  

There has been a long debate on the factors contributing to democracy in the nation. A democratic nation is one in which the government allows its people to choose their leaders. However, not every country has been able to attain democracy because of various factors.  One nation that people need to learn about is Thailand, which, despite its 17 constitutions, twenty-eight prime ministers, and nineteen coup d’états, the government has not attained real democracy. Since the past two decades, Thailand’s political situation has been unstable, mainly because of the transition from monarchy to democracy (Neher 195). The nation has also undergone different regimes from military dictatorship to electoral democracy, affecting society and its citizens. Democratization has been a challenge to Thailand mainly because of the difficulties in establishing a democratic rule. As of now, the government is at war with its people, who are protesting against the form of leadership.

From the analysis of the situation, it is evident that Thailand has failed to democratize because of corruption, increasing political violence, military activities, lack of legitimacy, and polarization. Additionally, constant coups with large crowds of people show a clear picture of the nation’s political crisis. With the instability, the military has taken advantage and ruled over the government; for instance, the coup d’état of 2014 (Neher 195). The influence of monarchy has also pushed democracy’s efforts of democracy behind because of its power over the military. King and LoGerfo admitted the “state of democracy in Thailand has long being eluded.” Comparing Thailand’s democracy to that of the United States and Switzerland clarifies how the government is conducting its operations. Thailand’s politics mainly encompasses the ‘hybrid regime,’ which has both the democratic and authoritarian leadership style.  The paper highlights this problem’s origin and gives a solution to what the country can do to attain democratization.

Background of the Problem

The main reason behind the lack of democracy in Thailand is the political conflicts and instability since time immemorial. Yoshifumi points out that “Thailand has gone through periods of political clashes between the anti-democracy and pro-democracy forces” (271).  Since the 1990s, two main factors have played a significant role in the process of democratization. First, the last half of the 1980s was characterized by constant changes to its socio-economic situation. After the Plaza Accord’s occurrence in 1985, Thailand opened up to numerous investments from other nations. Thus, these investments were the starting point of the democratization process. The opportunities resulted in the middle class’s growth and the lower level, who moved to urban cities to benefit from the development. Also, the lower-middle-class citizens mainly entailed electorates who became more aware of the political climate, alter yielding loyal citizens.

The second triggering factor is the revolution of the constitution in 1997. Yoshifumi notes that “there was a change in the electoral process, thus impacting the region’s political system”(272). When the first political leader, Thaksin Shinawatra, came to leadership, more people embraced politics, making them comprehend that democracy only encompasses the political factors. Despite the changes in the constitution, some opposed the entire process. They included the minority from both the urban middle class and upper-class citizens. They felt threatened by the new government because they were used to the authoritarian system. The new policies additionally reduced their freedom and their political influence (Yoshifumi 273). Another group affected by democratization was King Bhumibol, the monarchy, alongside the supporters. The King felt that his efforts had gone to waste after years of building his empire. He enjoyed obedient followers, his charismatic nature, and a compliant prime minister. Therefore, Thailand has experienced a constant fight between democratization and monarchial succession, which has negatively impacted real democracy (Yoshifumi 276). Despite that, the King plays a critical role in the country, with strong support from the military, which has been running the coups against the government.

Process of Democratization

Most nations in Asia have undergone democratization; however, some have failed to fully achieve the Western-style, which is the liberal democracy (Neher 301). Those in leadership select political regimes that suit their citizens’ specific needs for a particular period. Thus, the main reason why the full integration of the Western democratic system is still a challenge is that Asian nations have diverse traditions, indigenous cultures, and historical events. Countries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and South Asia, which were once referred to as ‘democratic’ nations in the 1990s, include Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. However, at the moment, only partial features of the liberal democracy exist in these nations; hence, a more accurate definition would be ‘semi-democracies.’  The countries conduct free and fair elections, which are recognized widely as the best way to select the leaders. Additionally, other similar characteristics with that of liberal democracy include lobby groups for political reforms, accessibility to diversity, freedom of citizens, and media freedom.

Thailand is characterized by an alternation of authority, free and fair elections, and other democratic attributes; however, its systems remain shallow. Moreira notes that “such countries have weak states, corrupt political elites, reduced economic growth, and crime in the public sector, self-interested individuals, and tedious political and social reforms”(87). Thailand has established supreme courts, civil society, and political parties; therefore, it should be categorized as a democratic nation. However, Thailand’s political climate has made it difficult to enjoy these elements altogether. Since 1932, there have only been minor changes in the democratic system. King and LoGerfo affirm the democracy was just in form, thus giving the country away to be ruled by the military.

There has been a constant shift in the democratic style since the early 1970s, whereby the country improved from semi-democracy to democracy. Later in 1992, the government integrated some part of democracy by increasing citizen involvement, civil liberties, and competition during the election. However, the military coup d’états in 2006 and 2014 instigated the fight between the yellow and red shirts in Bangkok, thus clearly indicating the problem of lack of consolidation in Thailand’s democracy (Sinpeng 531). Many years have gone by, and Thailand remains behind with the process of democratization. The main factors leading to this are more complicated and cannot be attributed to only one aspect. The institutions put in place to assist the citizens are more ineffective than imagined. Also, the country’s political instability is making it difficult to tell if the problem of democratization can be solved. Numerous discussions concerning this have come up; however, no satisfactory solution has been given so far.

Thailand’s Failure to Democratize

Why has Thailand failed to democratize? There are various reasons behind the failure to democratize, and these include Thailand’s constitution, electoral system, state of the judiciary, freedom of media, and people’s take about democracy. Neher notes that despite the similarities between Asian and Western countries, “each country has its fair share of problems, thus inability to achieve full democratization” (301). These problems relate to economic growth and development, domestic insurgency, national security, and authoritative structures in the government. Therefore, not attaining these democratic elements leads to Asian-style democracy. The history of Asian societies is dominated by individual interests rather than the common interests of the whole community (Neher 302). When it comes to Thailand, its semi-democratic system is because it does not meet the Western system in terms of behavior.

Secondly, Neher (195) confirms that Thailand’s system is difficult to evaluate because of the rule by non-democratic military systems despite its achievement of a republican plan. The nation has gone through a series of military regimes since 1932. These regimes have been characterized by short-term leadership and forceful takeover of power through coups carried out by military forces. The worst period was between 1932 and 1994, which saw Thailand undergo nineteen military coup trials. The aftermath was the displacement of established military systems (Neher 196). In 1973, Thailand managed to take back governance from the military structure.

Compared to the United States and Switzerland, Thailand still lacks an established political system because of the weak parties. Additionally, the election flaws in the country result from candidates buying votes from the citizens. Other differences include the widening gap between the rural-urban class and increased corruption. Neher (195) mentions that the military was more organized, and therefore, they suggested that they were better leaders, and the nation should ignore the democratic system. Neher (303) acknowledges that the mentioned factors are detrimental to Thailand’s democratic situation. However, its efforts towards attaining democracy are promising even though it can perform better as a semi-democratic nation. Neher (321) suggests that stability in economic conditions, routine updates in the democratic procedures, population control, improved communications, and reduction in domestic and international threats can positively contribute to semi-democracy.

Thailand’s constitution

One of the critical processes in democratization is the establishment of the constitution. Elinoff notes that for a body to be effective, both formal and empirical legitimacy should be attained (143). Legal, constitutional legitimacy is a constitutional process that follows the democratic guidelines and must be agreed upon by the citizens through a referendum. However, empirical constitutional legitimacy is attained through political efficiency, political and social inclusivity, and effective institutions (Elinoff 160). Changes in Thailand’s constitution since 1932 proves that the country is facing political instability. Also, the constitution implementation process has not followed democratic mandates. The government has additionally been unable to embrace constitutional authority; thus, the current political battles between the military and political groups.

Electoral System

For Thailand to attain real democracy, it needs to streamline its electoral system, which will, in turn, enhance the effectiveness of other institutions. The electoral system rationalizes the existing parties by ensuring everyone is involved in forming the government (Boonlue 846). The main form of government in Thailand since 1932 was the parliament; however, the numerous coup d’état have made it impossible for reforms in the electoral system. Moreover, democratic institutions have inhibited democracy because of a lack of agreement on power distribution (Boonlue 849).

State of the Judiciary

Another factor derailing the process of democratization in Thailand is its judicial system. Since the constitution’s implementation in 1932, the courts were responsible for appointing judges and coming up with strategies to enhance law and democracy in the country (Boontinand et al. 41). However, existing problems such as power abuse, corruption, and existing fights between color shirts prove that the judiciary as an institution is lagging. The judiciary has failed to ensure political stability in the country because of supporting a particular political elite, termed as “politicization of the judiciary.” The judiciary lacks transparency and accountability, which makes it hard to attain full democracy in the country.

Thailand’s Political Party System

Political parties additionally determine democratization because these systems choose the stability of the leaders. Parties should be founded upon institutions that balance interests and promote democratic reforms (Talpin et al.788). However, the constant military coups in Thailand have disrupted political parties and blocked any reforms put forward by the members. Additionally, the regimes from 1933 to 1945 did not allow parties’ proper functioning, leading to most of them being banned. For instance, the Democratic Party was present from 1947 to 1948 and was mainly in parliament after that tenure (Sinpeng 534). Despite the active election of 1995 and 1996 that saw the government’s election under a democratic system, the party system remained weak and fragmented because of unending corruption and disruptive coalition governments.

Freedom of Media

The media plays a vital role in monitoring the implementation of democracy in any nation. The media has freedom of speech and expression; thus, they can criticize and offer solutions to the government (Talpin 790). However, in Thailand, the media lacks these rights and is therefore restricted to openly talking about change. This condition demeans democracy, given that the state controls media outlets and determines what is put out there for the public.

People’s Take on Democracy

Many citizens support democracy; however, they lack sufficient knowledge about the existing system. Additionally, only a few people participate in local and national politics; hence, they do not influence the democratization process (Talpin 794). Also, the different opinions between the poor and the urban middle class continue to derail democratization efforts. Neher established that those living in urban areas such as Bangkok have more robust democratic knowledge and are more aware of their political environment, unlike those in rural areas. Thus, this class is likely to influence democracy because of their attitudes regarding voting and political participation.

Recommendations

Based on the above factors, it is evident that Thailand has not yet attained democracy despite its constitution and electoral system interventions. For consolidation to occur, the nation must establish strong and effective institutions that will fully implement the constitution’s freedoms and rights (Boontinand et al. 39). Secondly, Thailand must make reforms in the political party systems as well as the parliament. This step will help the country have more vital democratic institutions that combat the frequent coup d’état and regain control. The government must additionally address the existing economic inequalities that spur political struggles and conflicts. Political leaders should be able to make informed decisions as well as implement different democratic processes. With a flexible party system, the citizens will be fully engaged in change. Lastly, the amendment of laws restricting the media from expressing themselves freely should be undertaken.

Conclusion

Despite the numerous constitutions, Thailand has not fully managed to implement complete democracy mainly because of the political instability and weak institutions. The implementation of the constitution did not fully monitor the effectiveness of the political institution. Therefore, the nation has been exposed to numerous regimes. There has been a lack of legitimacy in the constitution as well as the parliament. The judiciary put in charge of protecting democracy is corrupt because of supporting a particular political elite. Additionally, the country has limited the media’s rights, which play a role in disseminating information to the public. With these problems, it is clear that Thailand is running under faux democracy, and more reforms need to be made for them to enjoy the full benefits of democratization.

Works Cited

Boontinand, Vachararutai, and Sriprapha Petcharamesree. “Civic/citizenship Learning and the

Challenges for Democracy in Thailand.” Education, citizenship, and social justice 13.1 (2018): 36–50. Web.

Boone, Nattapong. “Local Politics and Democracy in Thailand.” Procedia Economics and Finance 23 (2015): 846–849. Web.

Elinoff, Eli. “Subjects of Politics: Between Democracy and Dictatorship in Thailand.” Anthropological Theory 19.1 (2019): 143–169. Web.

Moreira, J. Thailand’s Struggle for Democracy. (M.A. Thesis, Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Georgetown University Washington D.C.), (2015): 86-87

Montesano, Michael J, Terence Chong, and Mark Shu Xun Heng. After the Coup: The National  Council for Peace and Order Era and the Future of Thailand. S.G.: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute, 2019. Print.

Neher, Clark. “Democratization in Thailand.” Asian Affairs: An American Review. 195-209. 1995 https://www.jstor.org/stable/30172233

Neher, Clark. “The Transition to Democracy in Thailand.” Asian Perspective. 301-321. 1996. https://www.jstor.org/stable/42704109

Simpang, Aim. “Corruption, Morality, and the Politics of Reform in Thailand: Corruption,

Morality and Democracy in Thailand.” Asian politics & policy 6.4 (2014): 523–538. Web.

Talpin, Julien D, et al. “Reviews: Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy, Globalization, and Social Change: People and Places in a Divided World, Global Matrix: Nationalism, Globalism and State-Terrorism, Political Virtue and Shopping: Individuals, Consumerism and Collective Action, Why Deliberative Democracy?, Thailand at the Margins: Internationalization of the State and the Transformation of Labour, the Personal and the Political: How Personal Welfare State Experiences Affect Political Trust and Ideology.” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 23.5 (2005): 785–794. Web.

Yoshifumi, Tamada. “Democratization and the Military in Thailand.” Emerging States at  Crossroads. 271-285. 1 December 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-2859-6_13

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