Worse than a coup
Sep 4th 2008
From The Economist print edition
An authoritarian rabble should not be allowed to turf out a deeply flawed but popularly elected government
STANDING up for democracy sometimes entails standing up for some unappealing democrats.
’s pugnacious prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, is an especially hard man to defend. Thailand
A ferocious rightist, Mr Samak was accused of inciting the policemen and vigilantes who slaughtered dozens of unarmed student protesters in
in 1976. On becoming prime minister following the election last December that restored democratic rule after a 2006 coup, Mr Samak chose for his cabinet some of the most unsavoury figures linked to the government of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister deposed in the coup. But with the army on the streets of Bangkok again, Mr Samak is for once, if not in the right, then at least less wrong than those calling for his head. Bangkok
His government is deeply flawed. But it would be wrong and dangerous if the authoritarian rabble who have seized Government House in
Some in the crowds at PAD rallies are liberals, appalled both at the abuses of power in Mr Thaksin’s government and the sad signs that Mr Samak’s is no better. The PAD’s leaders, however, are neither liberals nor democrats. A gruesome bunch of reactionary businessmen, generals and aristocrats, they demand not fresh elections, which they would lose, but “new politics”—in fact a return to old-fashioned authoritarian rule, with a mostly appointed parliament and powers for the army to step in when it chooses. They argue that the rural masses who favour Mr Thaksin and Mr Samak are too “ill-educated” to use their votes sensibly. This overlooks an inconvenient electoral truth: the two prime ministers had genuinely popular policies, such as cheap health care and credit.
As in the build-up to the 2006 coup, PAD leaders are trying to oust a popular government on the bogus pretext of “saving”
In the official version of modern Thai history, the king is the great defender of peace and democracy, who comes to the rescue at moments of crisis. Now would seem to be one such moment: some wise words from the king could do much to defuse tension. Thais like to believe they are good at seeking compromise to avoid conflict. But there has been little sign of compromise in the past three years, and there is now the risk of a bad one. The elected government might be forced out of office to pacify the PAD’s demagogues, it might be made to share power with the undeserving opposition Democrat party, which has shown little leadership while waiting for power to be handed it on a plate, or, as in
It is just possible to imagine a decent compromise in which Mr Samak gives way to a more emollient figure from the ruling coalition—and the PAD and its supporters in the army, the bureaucracy and (if they exist) the royal palace accept the verdict of the people. But the PAD’s leaders may well not stop until they have imposed their own, undemocratic vision of
Prosperous, modern and open,