Just in case you are interested: thsi is what the Economist was writing in the most reacent print edition from earlier this week:
Thailand - A blow to Thai democracy
Apr 6th 2006 - From The Economist print edition
The mob has beaten the ballot box in South-East Asia
?IT'S a funny old world,? Margaret Thatcher remarked as she was driven from power in 1990, not by the electorate but by her own party. Like Mrs Thatcher, Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister of Thailand since 2001, has won three elections on the trot. But that has not stopped him, like her, from making a tearful early exit from office.
Mr Thaksin won his most recent victory on April 2nd (see article). Because all the main opposition parties had boycotted the poll, this was a foregone conclusion. Since the boycott turned this into more of a referendum than an election, the prime minister had vowed to quit if he did not win more than 50% of the vote. Despite a campaign by the boycotters to have their supporters register a ?no vote?, he scored around 57%. However, partly because of a relatively poor turnout, he won 3m fewer votes than he had a year ago?resulting in less than the ringing re-endorsement he had hoped for. And the opposition, despite having in effect scored a third consecutive defeat, vowed to continue its clamorous street rallies against him, disrupting traffic and government business in Bangkok. It all proved too much. After an audience with the king, Mr Thaksin announced on April 4th that he would go.
Many people will call this a great day for Asian democracy. Mr Thaksin is an unattractive figure, a billionaire who spent his way to power by setting up his own lavishly funded party, and relentlessly promoting it using the stable of media companies he had conveniently acquired. This route to power echoed that taken by Italy's Silvio Berlusconi (see article), who faces his own difficult encounter with the voters this weekend. And the criticisms of both men are strikingly similar: that their great wealth creates many conflicts of interest; that they have ridden roughshod over their countries' constitutions; that they have attempted to suppress criticism; and that they have both, in different ways, been disappointments in office, despite billing themselves as high-powered business types who know how to get things done. Both men, in short, have been bad for democracy, and both their countries will be better off without them.
The shadow of the barracks
At this point, nonetheless, the two stories diverge. If Mr Berlusconi wins 57% of the vote in Italy's election, nobody expects to see Romano Prodi and the opposition he leads taking to the streets, camping out at the Quirinale, shutting down the Piazza Navona and vowing not to rest until they have driven the prime minister from power. The world would rightly condemn them in the unlikely event that they did so. In Thailand, while Mr Thaksin is undoubtedly a disease in the body politic, the cure that has just been applied is worse than the illness itself. It is not yet clear exactly why Mr Thaksin resigned, despite his victory. But the fear of mob violence, or the growing possibility of military intervention, or pressure from an extremely powerful royal palace may all have played their part. And none of these is healthy for a country that aspires to be a true democracy.
For all his many faults, Mr Thaksin deserves some credit for introducing a bold new concept into politics?that government should pay much more attention to the wishes of those left behind by the economic boom in Thailand's poorest rural provinces (most of which voted, enthusiastically, for him on April 2nd). This principle has borne fruit politically, and economically too. It has helped pump up domestic demand, something a country such as Thailand, which has faced devastating competition from China in the export market, badly needs. The policy has proved so successful that other countries in the region have openly copied it.
Beyond this, the political system in Thailand was not as badly broken as Mr Thaksin's opponents have often claimed. If it were, he would not have had to sell almost all of his family's assets in January, including the television station that is supposed to have been so central to his power. That sale made the most recent election at least reasonably free and fair. Newspapers, in particular, were much more critical of Mr Thaksin than in the past. It is a great pity that the mob was in the end allowed to beat the electoral system. The correct way to oust Mr Thaksin should have been at the ballot box.
Now fix the damage
Much of East Asia has only recently emerged from the shadow of the barracks, and a young democracy is one that cannot be taken for granted. The spectacle of an urban elite overthrowing an elected leader, one who enjoyed great popularity among the rural poor whom he genuinely helped, is not only distasteful but potentially dangerous. The nearest parallel is probably the Philippines, where an urban revolution, backed by the army, drove the populist and utterly useless president, Joseph Estrada, from office in 2002. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who inherited his job, also inherited a country addicted to actual and attempted revolution??people power? as it is sometimes too flatteringly called. If Thailand slips into a similar cycle of instability, one might start to worry about the future of far more fragile Indonesia as well.
With luck, it will not come to that. Thailand's ?revolution? was well-behaved and bloodless. Bangkok's middle class may be too sensible to be easily drawn further down the path that can lead to coups. Its own bloody experience of military crackdowns, in 1973 and 1992, is still fresh.
With the ?dictator? now off the scene (for the moment, his deputy is to become prime minister), can Thailand once again become a model transitional democracy? This will require maturity from both sides. Mr Thaksin must avoid interfering. And the opposition must now speedily return to democratic methods. The present parliament, with the main opposition parties absent, is an aberration that ought not be allowed to last more than a few weeks. New elections will have to be held and it is essential that all the main parties contest them. If, as seems possible, Mr Thaksin's party, Thai Rak Thai, emerges on top again and is able to form a government, the opposition must accept the result. That's how democracy should work.
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