Struggling Democracy in Thailand
( Last edit 2009-03-29 )
Thailand had been a Kingdom under absolute monarchy throughout a history of over 700 years. At present she is a sixty-six-million populated Kingdom under Constitutional Monarchy. During the past two century, the country was forced and rushed to evolve by western imperialism and the republic parliamentary revolutionary changes which swept the globe causing falling dominoes started with French revolution and subsequent fall of Russian Romanov dynasty in Europe, and Emperor Puyi of Manchu dynasty in China. World economic depression and both world wars rushed Thailand into more turbulent ideology conflicts.
Despite several Kings' endeavour to steer the Thai Kingdom through the waves, Thailand, far from democratic cultures did not have enough time to get her population educated and prepared for both western political, industrial and economic waves of changes. There would be some crooks who would take advantage of the unprotected poor and the uneducated. King Rama VII wrote after the military coup in 1932 that he would not agree for the power to fall into the hands of anybody who do not listen to the real voices of the people.
Since the conversion to the constitutional monarchy in 1932, Thailand has been democratic only in theory that is only in parliamentary format. Most of the time, the country and the parliament have been under military governments, aristocrats or elite politicians, not by the people, for the people or belonging to the people. Political freedom, media freedom, freedom of speech and basic human rights were severely compromised.
Student-lead million of citizen uprising in October 1973 was a genuine democratic movement which brought a new vision of freeing the country from military government. The country was freed from military dictatorship and was temporarily governed by civiliians. Consequently, public media were allowed more freedom to criticize on politics and governments while personal individual rights become more respected. However, just three years later, right-wing military conspired with old-fashioned politicians like Samak Sundaravej to stage political turmoils and a coup which overturned the reform with a bloody massacre and vigorous media censorship.
At the end of the indochina war in 1990's, huge influx of foreign investments, foreign factories did not wait for Thailand's poor preparation of infrastructures and social cultures. Middle class people constitute only ten per cent of the sixty million population enjoyed the wealth and the increasing freedom leaving the majority poor in the rural areas and slums. The country has become more money-oriented. Thailand has never been ranked far from the top corruptions-filled country.
De jure-wise the laws are very stict but de facto-wise the law enforcement is very ineffective in Thailand. Corruptions and briberies in all sectors have been exponentially on the rise. To win an election, an MP may have to pay up to 30 million bahts (1 million USD) for buying a vote at a rate of one to five hundred bahts (10-15USD) per head. Most politicians get elected because of vote-buying and return their investments in the House by selling themselves to pass biased resolutions supporting the governments particularly votes of confidence or corrupt budget bills.
Though the capital and some cities look good, the only minority in the urbans gets very rich and the distribution of wealth, resources and opportunities remains poor. Overall, the country gets worse in terms of widening class gaps as well as social and environmental problems.
Vicious circles are never-ending in Thailand. During a relatively more democratic period, middle-class in the cities ignore the poor in the rural areas. Media accept bribes or avoid conflicts with politicians and the authority by filling their screens and pages with soap operas, game shows and junks. Corruptions among buraucrats and politicians have been well accomodated in practice of competing business. After a while military would step in. When absolute power corrupts absolutely, then people have to rise up when the military also corrupted. Every time a coup was staged, some scapegoats or excuses were always made up for justification. Eventually, the following junta government would have to give people's political rights back. As a result, there have been 18 coup and a resultant 18 constitutions in the history of Thai politics.
During a junta government in 1990, Thaksin Shinawatra through bribery and a strong tie, managed to get a monopoly concession on the only national communicaton satellite under his Shin Corporation. That was how he quietly paved his way to become extremely rich and expand his empire later in insider trading of shares and real estates. Regular bribery of authorities have been a regular practice to get both insider information and up-coming government projects.
May 1992 uprising lead to efforts to breakaway this vicious circle with more reform through 1997 constitution aiming at check and balance of powers between politically strengthened government and separately elected senators and anti-corruption institutes. Administrative courts, constitutional courts, Supreme courts, Senates, National Counter Corruptions Committe (NCCC) and election-control committee(ECC) were designed to join the check and balance of corruptors.
Instead of the integrity, these supposed-to-be-independent institutes have definitely prooved their weaknesses and loopholes against influential connections, tempting bribery, and formidable threats during Thaksin regime. Criminals went loose. Thaksin, though hiding his assets in previous minister's term and got caught by NCCC, was laundered by bribing some constitution court judeges before taking his first time in the PM office in 2001. That was a very good lesson for him to get a complete and absolute control not only in the house but also all the check and balance independent institutes.
So far, throughout the democratic history of Thailand, only one politician, Rakkiat Suktana, an ex-Minister in Health got convicted by relentless pursuit of an NGO activist, Rosana Tositrakul who later has been awarded the first lady elected Bangkok senator.
2007 constitution, following Thaksin's case, was particularly designed to be more tighter in control of corruptions and conflicts of interests of politicians whereas decrease the authority of the government. (What did a press editor say about it?)
One of the major obstacles to democracy education in Thailand remains the poor development of media's freedom either because of the politician's direct repression upon the media, lack of media's ethics, media bribery and ignorance of the media. (Growing Unethical Journalism) As a result, the knowledge gap as well as the economic gap between the majority poors in the rural area and the minority middle class in the city never come close, leaving great opportunity for corruptor politicians to buy votes and get on with their blood sucking business.
A Tale of Two Cities in a Divided Kingdom
Diverse Thais' Opinions Through BBC
A Politician's View on PAD