At one level Thailand’s conflict seems a relatively straightforward matter of class and privilege. On one side is a minority urban middle class that is frightened by the “tyranny of the majority” and that clings onto the established power of monarchy and army. On the other is a provincial and largely rural mass that has recently learnt how to use electoral democracy to overcome state neglect. But at another level, the conflict is more complex. Politicians representing the provincial mass have reaped the gains that accrue to political influence in the absence of a strong judiciary and other checks and balances. Thaksin is an unlikely and unfortunate figure to become the heroic defender of democracy since he does not believe in it, he has manipulated it to make billions, and he overrode liberal democratic principles during his time in power. PAD argues that ethics are more important than the principle of one-person/one-vote, and many liberal democratic activists support PAD on those grounds.

The political crisis in Thailand has lulled but is far from over. Ultimately this conflict is about resolving the increased social and political complexities that arise with prosperity and globalisation. In the pessimistic view, PAD’s crude ideas and crude use of violence are an ominous sign for the future of democracy. In the optimistic view, the current conflict is exploding the old myth of a society unified under the monarchy, ushering in the possibility of a stronger democracy based on open debate and open competition.

From Thailand: Fighting over Democracy by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker.