GeoPolitical Forecasts

Forecasts of international political events

Addendum to Thai elections

The Monkey Cage (the blog) has a post on election violence. Some quotes:

Leaders are more likely to crack down when they think an election might unseat them (or their party) from power and they face few constraints on their authority and so have reason to believe they can get away with violence.

And

When judiciaries become more independent of the executive office, or when other checks on government power develop, election violence becomes less likely even when a leader or party’s position in power is seriously threatened.

Thailand has two governments: the unelected government centered around the king’s ability to make appointments, and the mostly elected government headed by Yingluck. (Just under half of the Senate is appointed by a committee made up of the king’s appointees. The remainder of the Senate and the House of Representatives is elected.) The behavior of the two governments leading up the the election follows the pattern described by Emilie M. Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde in the their Monkey Cage post.

Hafner-Burton and Susan D. Hyde specifically mention the importance of independent courts. In Thailand judges are appointed by the king. Suthep Thaugsuban, Democratic party member and protest leader, has been indicted for sedition. Since he’s trying to overthrow an elected government, that’s perfectly reasonable. He’s also been indicted for giving orders as a member of a previous government that led to the deaths of around ninety red shirt protesters. Assuming that there’s evidence to support the indictment, that’s not unreasonable. Yingluck Shinawatra has a case against her in the courts for her government’s rice subsidy scheme. Granted that the scheme is horrible policy, this is still making it a crime for a government to create policy. And hundreds of her party’s parliament members are being tried for voting for a law that would have eliminated the appointment of Senators and made it entirely elected. (The law passed but was declared unconstitutional.) This is essentially criminalizing parliamentary voting.

The Thai courts are part of the unelected government. In spite of the serious charges against him, Suthep has not been arrested and police presence around the protests has been minimal. The protesters have been able to block intersections in Bangkok, forcefully bar would-be candidates from registering, lock voting areas and prevent voters from voting, and interfere with the distribution of ballots. They have driven the government out of its offices. They’ve been able to use illegal means to prevent the government from carrying out legally mandated activities. And the government has not tried to stop them.

I don’t believe that Yingluck has been so restrained out of the kindness of her heart. Even though she’s the head of an elected government, her government is, in effect, the opposition to an unelected government reluctant to relinquish power. While she has control of the police, the courts would almost certainly penalize her if she used them too freely. On the other hand, the protesters aren’t terribly concerned about the courts and Suthep continues to move around Bangkok.

So politics in Thailand at the moment consists of an elected government faced with severe constraints in conflict with an unelected government with fewer constraints. The unelected government’s power is being threatened and it can get away with a higher level of force. The elected government has to be more restrained.

One final quote:

…election violence may be a symptom of a threatened and potentially weakening incumbent government rather than a sign that democratization – and future protection for human rights – is doomed.

The violence around the election may not be so much a sign that Thailand is falling into chaos, as it is a sign that a group of people who have been accustomed to exercising a large amount of power find themselves weakened and their hold on power threatened.

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