“Thailand in No Hurry to Return to Democracy”
The Washington Post, April 14, 2015, p.A6
“Eleven months after overthrowing a democratically elected government, the military junta that seized control of Thailand is growing comfortable in power — and many Thais, battered by 15 stormy years of democracy, are not complaining. The junta has given Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief-turned-prime minister, almost unbridled power and has let its road map for returning to a system of ‘Thai-style democracy,’ involving a new constitution and elections, veer off course. Officials are talking about a poll in early 2016, though recent murmurs suggest they may need two or three years to return stability to Thailand, a U.S. ally that once had one of the most dynamic and competitive economies in Southeast Asia. ‘If the situation remains like this, I can tell you that I will hold onto power for a long time,’ Prayuth told reporters late last month. ‘Why is there all this fuss about elections? ‘Will anyone die’ if there are no elections? he asked. The opposition is lying low, figuring the best way to be effective is to give the generals enough rope to hang themselves; on the streets of Bangkok, there is little discernible dissatisfaction with Prayuth’s putsch. … Many Thais are disillusioned with democracy after the Shinawatras: Thaksin Shinawatra, the billionaire who won election as prime minister in 2001 but was overthrown in 2006 and fled into exile amid allegations of widespread corruption, and his sister (and proxy) Yingluck Shinawatra, who Prayuth ousted in May. Yingluck has since been impeached and banned from politics for five years…. Indeed, after two coups in a decade and chaotic protests on the streets of Bangkok, many people are relieved that there is stability and relative calm. … The junta has used military tribunals to try protesters and pro-democracy activists, with no right of appeal, and has suppressed political parties and banned gatherings of more than five people. … ‘This is not like many of the recent coups, which were really about military entrepreneurialism,’ said Chris Baker, an academic who has lived in Thailand for more than 30 years. ‘This time, the people were pushing it. The professional elite were howling that they had had enough of democracy. Doctors, bureaucrats, big business were all behind this.’ … Even among political opponents of the junta, there is little sense of urgency about holding elections and returning to democracy.”
Quickie analysis: Thailand is part of a growing number of countries that have decided recently that democracy is not quite what they thought.