Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thailand: People power in reverse

I lived in Thailand for a year (a long time ago), and visited several times, but I'm no expert on Thai politics. So maybe someone can give me a good justification for the yellow-shirted PAD protestors' demands that the Prime Minister resign and the electoral system be changed?

I know there are reasonable charges of corruption and nepotism against PM Somchai, and I know that the rural poor (who are Somchai's base supporters) can be manipulated with populist rhetoric. So the PAD supporters have some legitimate grievances. But their response has been to shut down the main airports, thus setting back the Thai economy, and to demand an end to one-person one-vote, thus setting back the Thai democracy. Aren't there better ways to accomplish the "reforms" the PAD seeks, such as getting the courts to prosecute corruption (which eventually happened), and changing your own party's platform to make it more attractive to poor rural voters? In the absence of those measures, it seems that the PAD supporters are mostly fighting a class war to protect their own self-interests.

So this episode reminds us that nonviolent strategies can be used to effectively promote both progressive and somewhat regressive social change. People tend to associate nonviolence with progressive idealism, and that's a fair association, but certainly not a universal one.

One silver lining in this cloud: The protests on both sides have largely remained nonviolent. Even when the Thai military intervened in 2006 with a silent coup, there was little to no bloodshed, and democratic institutions returned quickly. So let's not lose the forest for the trees. For me, the forest is that a democratic culture and institutions continue to advance in Thailand, despite some setbacks along the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What would have happened if it had been the rural folks who had occupied the airport?