02 December 2008

Thailand: What Color is Your Revolution?

A timely court decision has given Thai dissidents what they occupied airports to achieve. The prime minister has been found guilty of election fraud and ordered to resign. Moreover, his political party has been ordered to disband, though most of its elected officials will retain their posts as individuals. Here are more details.

Thailand presents an interesting scene for students of democracy. Political leaders are very accountable to the country's courts. The late prime minister only occupied the office because a court had deposed his predecessor. While he clearly had his own legal issues that resolved themselves today, the airport protesters seemed satisfied that he was an illegitimate ruler because of his family tie to another former leader (an ambitious media mogul in the Berlusconi mode) who had his own court problems and was ultimately removed by a coup d'etat. The military is an active, independent force in Thai politics. That's an appalling idea (I hope) to most Americans, but many Thais seemed to applaud or encourage the army's interventions because they hate the Thaksin faction so much. The airport protesters reportedly would have approved a coup had they been unable to compel the prime minister to quit, absent the court decision. It disturbed me to read that they seemed to prefer a coup to a new election that would have let the entire populace decide the fate of the leadership. We think of dissidents in scenarios like these as democracy personified, but in this case they were unwilling, if I understood the reports right, to let democracy take its course. Were they afraid their enemy would win? Were the dissidents, after all, a minority that might have overthrown a constitutionally legitimate regime had the court not done it first?

Apart from the novelty of the mob takeovers at the airports and the inconveniences imposed on tourists, the American media didn't make such a big deal about the Thai crisis. Maybe that's because there aren't the kind of clear cut good guys and bad guys that we prefer in our stories, or maybe we didn't have a dog in the fight. If none of the parties involved could be tagged as extremists, anti-American, or pawns of China or Russia, it probably didn't matter to most Americans. But it would have made for more entertaining news than most of what we've gotten this week.

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