Is Thailand facing tea party-style obstruction?

To expand further upon my much longer essay on recent protests in Thailand and Ukraine, Thailand needs to get itself together. This is such a mess. In sum: One party coalition (TRT or PPP) has won every democratic election since 2001, the first after its creation. The main opposition party has lost every election since 1992. Instead of figuring out how to broaden their appeal and campaign in new areas of the country, that party is throwing yet another tantrum in the streets and literally demanding the ruling party leadership leave the country (to join the members they have already forced out previously).

Instead of changing their electoral approach to try to win for a change, they are simply saying that voters have been duped. And now that early elections have been called, they are still protesting because of course they realize they’re going to lose yet another election. Sore-loserism like this is not a good look and it’s bad for democracy.

Because of the deep affection that the governing party has in the north and northeast of the country, scholars say, it would be very difficult for the Democrat Party to reverse its two-decade losing streak in national elections. In the last elections, held in July 2011, the governing party received 15.7 million votes, compared with 11.4 million for the Democrats.

Mr. Suthep, the protest leader, said that low-income Thais, many of whom support Mr. Thaksin, “had been completely fooled for 10 years.”

Although the opposition has repeatedly said that Mr. Thaksin has maintained his power by buying votes, two of Thailand’s leading political researchers wrote in an article last week that the allegation was “dangerous nonsense” because it was policies, not vote buying, that had cemented the loyalty of many voters in the provinces to Mr. Thaksin. Mr. Thaksin instituted universal health care and microloans to farmers that were very popular among rural voters.

Yes, it’s quite shocking that voters might vote with a party that speaks to their needs and provides key programs to support them in their hour of need … and against a party that serves much narrower interests from a different region and which has supported a military coup against their preferred party (after boycotting an election no less). Voters “must” be sheep simply because they have a different ideological position!

Of course whenever the Thai opposition has been brought to power by non-electoral means, such as the military coup or the banning of the first iteration of the ruling party, they have been driven out again by voters at the very next election. Why? Because even when given the opportunity to enact policy on which to campaign, they have failed to sway the majority.

It brings to mind the recent attitude of U.S. Republicans (particularly those aligned with the tea party types) who are increasingly restricted to a single geographic region and find themselves unable to win back full control of the government. Their response has been to try to shut down the government and block any policymaking whatsoever. The Republican base consistently also expresses aloud the same view as Thai opposition leaders — that the voters are only voting for the majority party because they’ve been hoodwinked and paid for.

Listen to the echoes from Thailand:

“I understand that democracy means being governed by a majority,” said Chaiwat Chairoongrueng, a 36-year-old civil servant protesting last week. “But you cannot use the majority to rule over everything.”

Protesters did little to hide their sense of superiority, echoing the leaders of the demonstration who repeatedly described the demonstrators as “good people” fighting evil.

“We are the middle class, we are educated and we know best,” said Saowanee Usanakornkul, 43, from southern Thailand who took part in the protest. “We know what is right and wrong,” she said. “But the poor don’t know anything. They elect the people who give them money.”

Rather than developing an alternative policy program that will achieve similar goals — which they may not in fact be interested in achieving anyway — upon which they could campaign, they have chosen to blame the voters, throw a tantrum, and bring everything to a screeching halt.

That’s not how a functioning democracy works. If you lose repeatedly at the ballot box (in free elections!), you’re doing something wrong. So you change course and find new ways to appeal to voters and target new groups of voters. You don’t boycott, you don’t throw tantrums, you don’t take to the streets, you don’t shut the government down, and you don’t overthrow the government.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.
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