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When Demagogues Destroy Democracy

HEAVILY-armed troops backed by tanks took control of the Thai premier’s office in Bangkok while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was out of the kingdom, witnesses said.

Witnesses outside Government House in central Bangkok said forces loyal to sacked military commander Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin took control of the building in what appeared to be a coup.

An announcement flashed on all public television channels said police and military forces loyal to King Bhumibol Adulyadej had taken control of Bangkok “to maintain law and order”. It was accompanied by patriotic music.

The announcement said the troops belonged to the “Council of Political Reform”. It apologised to Thai citizens for the unrest and asked for them to cooperate. ~News.com.au 

So the corrupt Thaksin Shinawatra has managed to effectively sabotage one of the only successful democratic governments in southeast Asia through his grandstanding and egomania.  Thai Rak Thai, but I expect they don’t much rak Mr. Thaksin right about now.  Assuming that the army has intervened not to overthrow democratic government, but has simply become disgusted with the antics of the Prime Minister, the coup is a blunt but possibly necessary way to force Thaksin’s hand and get him to resign. 

It is to be hoped that the venerable king of Thailand intervenes to arrange some peaceful transfer of power from the military government that will allow the Thais to have their constitutional government restored to them and will have Mr. Thaksin thrown out of office.  The monarchy may be the one thing that ultimately prevents this coup from degenerating into ruinous internal strife.

Memo to the democratists: if democratic government can implode and provoke a military coup in Thailand of all places, there is not much to hope for it in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan.  Stable, reasonably just and orderly governments are what allow for the gradual evolution of the indigenous institutions and habits necessary to sustain self-government.  Without the monarchy in Thailand, one wonders whether they would not have gone the way of Burma long ago.  One-man, one-vote democracies that heighten and politicise tribal and ethnic quarrels are disasters in the making.  If democratic government can fail in a relatively homogenous, stable and relatively prosperous country such as Thailand, it is not only insecure almost everywhere but it is also hardly the magic remedy to what ails a nation.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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