Anatomy of Political Atrophy in Thailand

Baladas Ghoshal is a former Professor of Southeast Asia and South-West Pacific Studies and Chairman of the Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
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  • March 2015

    With the take-over of power by the military on May 22, 2014, under General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, the chief of army, Thailand has gone full circle in coup d’états, from democratic deficit to fractious political struggle between different social groups leading to acute and irreconcilable political instability that gives leverage to the army to finally intervene and seize power by suspending the constitutional processes. Democracy in Thailand is not only a recent phenomenon, but is also periodic and short-lived. It is not democracy and political legitimacy of elected leaders that has held the country together and provided political and economic stability, but deep reverence for the monarchy, fear of the armed forces and the strength of the civil service. Thailand’s political system is in a state of atrophy in the midst of irreconcilable differences between those who want to cling to power through constitutional means, fair or unfair, of elections and populist policies and those who believe that constitutional means have brought about a tyranny of majority and unbridled corruption, which they want to reform through extraordinary measures, including suspension of electoral democracy and an unelected People’s Council. Will the military be able to resolve the political crisis in Thailand, bring stability and usher the country to constitutional democracy with political institutions matching the nation’s economic progress? If the complete failure of the previous coup in 2006 to improve Thailand’s political situation is any indication, there are reasons for concern and scepticism. Moreover, the degree of polarisation and intolerance in society now is more severe than it was eight years ago. To end decades of political instability and immaturity will require fundamental changes in the way Thai society functions and the way its people view their nation’s future.