Thailand and the Fragility of Representative Democracy

(EDIT: I just came across this – the UK foreign office has said “We do not believe that violence has any part to play in achieving political aims” I eagerly await the announcement that the police and army are being disbanded.)

Another post on Thailand. The redshirts, after scoring a coup (figuratively) by forcing the cancellation of the ASEAN summit, have been forced out of the city when the police and army started getting proper rough. In the ensuing riots, more than a hundred people have been injured and two killed. Clashes are not just between state agents and protesters, but also between protesters and local resident – Bangkok being, like most large cities, dominated by the yellowshirts.

In the face of this escalation of violence, the protest organisers have called for people to leave the city, and some have handed themselves in/been taken into custody.

What’s interesting of course is how this didn’t happen when the yellowshirts were doing the exact same thing – mass protests aiming at disrupting high-profile activities (like occupying the airports). Funny that – the army, which mainly supports the conservative yellowshirts, and had previously installed a yellow government by force, was very hands-off with yellowshirt protests. But when their ideological opponents are trying the same thing, it’s “no more Mr. Nice Guy”.

I was thinking about how to summarise the dispute in Thailand for my friends in the UK. In essence, the situation is that every time an election is held, one party (let’s say Labour, or Democrats for the US, Socialist Party for France, etc.) wins. They win because their supporters are more numerous. They win because the poor majority like their policies more.

But over a period of years, every Labour government is prevented from working by some means. Either the party is dissolved over a corruption case (with corruption everywhere, but only prosecuted against one party) by the Conservative judiciary, or in the face of mass protests the Conservative army decides to intervene and throw them out.

Eventually, a sufficient number of Labour MPs are persuaded to support a Conservative-led coalition government. It’s all perfectly legal – the MPs are elected, and a majority of them vote with David Cameron, so David Cameron is PM. The only problem is that he has always been defeated in elections.

Which of course shows up the undemocratic nature of representative democracy. We only get decisive input once every few years, so in the intervening years parties are very powerful, so when the election rolls round we have essentially a binary choice: Labour or Tories, Redshirt or Yellowshirt, Dems or Reps. And if there are only two choices, then all you need to do to ensure the triumph of one choice is to get the other out of the way by whatever means.

Atheists sometimes accuse Christians and Muslims of being ‘atheists-minus-one’: they have accurately perceived the non-existence of every God ever believed in, except for one that’s left. Similarly, representative democracy might be called ‘dictatorship-minus-one’ (or minus-two, minus-three, for more open party systems): instead of one ruler, you have one of a pair.

4 Responses to “Thailand and the Fragility of Representative Democracy”

  1. Db0 Says:

    Precicely, and exactly the reason why reformism is doomed to failure.

  2. Db0 Says:

    Btw, I think a more appropriate analogy for repressentative democracy would be ‘dictatorship-plus-one’ don’t you think?

  3. Alderson Warm-Fork Says:

    True. That might make more sense.

  4. Nepalese Gansters Unwilling to Grant Power to Other Gansters « Directionless Bones Says:

    […] where both sides have a partisan army, they are constantly wrangling to avoid an outbreak of war. Thailand illustrates this in a different way; where the state ‘machinery’ all favours one party, […]

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