Gripped by a deadly crisis, with grenades exploding in the streets of Bangkok, the people and politicians of Thailand once again find themselves back in the global media headlines. Unfortunately, much of the coverage is sexed-up and superficial, which is normally what happens when outsider journalists buzz in and out of a country (‘clusterfuck’, as they say), hastily file their reports, then move on, to the next episode of breaking news, wherever it is happening. Fellow journalists elsewhere on the planet predictably join the chorus. Perched at their desks, working to tight deadlines, they blindly repeat what’s just been said. The resulting coverage becomes fully cosmetic: it shuns the unfamiliar, ignores the cutting-edge qualities of the unfolding drama, misjudges its larger historical significance. As the case of Thailand shows, the overall result is paradoxical: news kills its own novelty. The life-and-death events gripping Thailand deserve much more careful treatment. So here are a few brief thoughts that readers might find useful when trying to figure out the wider global significance of this vexed and vicious moment in Thai politics.
First: Thailand’s adventures with democracy during the past generation are not backwater developments. They are of global relevance. They’re part of a bigger historical trend in which, despite many ups and downs, the spirit, language and institutions of democracy have made their mark in virtually every part of the Asia and Pacific region, on a scale never before witnessed. Some Western scholars say democratisation in the region brings it ever closer to ‘the Anglo-American model of two party democracy‘. This is wrong. It’s not just that the so-called Washminster model of ‘liberal’ parliamentary democracy has largely failed to take root in the region. The much more interesting fact is that the Asia and Pacific world, Thailand included, is making its mark and taking its revenge on Western democratic ideals and practices. The Thai dalliance with democracy is changing its imaginary homelands, doing new things to democracy, in defiance of the textbooks.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, December 2013 @PouYingluck
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Second: struggles over the meaning of democracy are absolutely central to the unfinished political drama. This is not a conflict about the ‘consolidation’ of democracy. In Thailand, nobody is lowering the flag of democracy. Everybody believes in its dark energy. The chief target of the present protests, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, says she’s ‘protecting democracy’, and won’t therefore resign. It’s why she has called for fresh elections, scheduled for early February. ‘Democracy belongs to the entire Thai people’, she tweets. Her main opponent, self-styled leader of the protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, agrees. Fancying himself the saviour of democracy, perhaps even its brave martyr, he likes to remind huge crowds of a key clause in the Thai constitution: ‘the highest power is the sovereign power of the people’.
Full Article: On Knife’s Edge: Elections and Democracy in Thailand.