Even before the military ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on September 19, Thai democracy was in severe crisis. The country had suffered a succession of elected but do-nothing or exceedingly corrupt regimes. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which for all intents and purposes ran the country with no accountability from 1997 to 2001, further eroded the legitimacy of Thai democracy by imposing a program that brought great hardship to the majority. Thaksin stoked this disaffection with the IMF and the political system to create a majority coalition that allowed him to violate constitutional constraints, infringe on democratic freedoms, and using the state as a mechanism of private capital accumulation.

A politically diverse opposition with a middle-class base sought to oust Thaksin by relying not on electoral democracy but on the democracy of the street. The democracy movement was about to launch the final phase to drive Thaksin out when the military intervened.

Though it is now popular among Bangkokians, the coup may have temporarily ended the crisis but at the pain of provoking a much deeper one.

  • Thaksin’s mass base of the poor and underprivileged will view post-coup regimes as possessing little democratic legitimacy.
  • The military has reasserted its traditional, self-defined role as the “arbiter” of Thai politics, a function that had been defined as illegitimate for the last 14 years.
  • The military deliberately abolished the one authentic popularly drawn-up constitution, the 1997 Constitution, which placed many controls on the exercise of parliamentary and executive power and on the behavior of politicians and bureaucrats.

For the full article, go to A Siamese Tragedy.

Walden Bello is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus.

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