One of the most unsavoury aspects of the Thaksin’s government’s term was the so called “war on drugs” which claimed the lives of thousands in a spate of extra-judicial killings. And one of the most unsavoury aspects of Thai political culture is that this brutal campaign (which turned a blind, and sometimes even approving, eye to official abuse and the violent settling of numerous local scores) proved to be a substantial electoral asset. In talking with villagers in northern Thailand about their attitudes to the government I was struck by how often they listed the “war on drugs” as a positive achievement of Thaksin’s administration. Arguing, as I have in previous posts, for respect for the electoral wishes of the majority does amount to an endorsement of specific electoral motivations. People make electoral decisions for all sorts of reasons, some of them repugnant. That’s how a warts and all democratic system works.
One recent comment post on NewMandala argues that Thaksin “forfeited his right to play the ‘democracy’ card when he winked at more than 2,000 extra-judicial killings in 2003.” A telling point. Thaksin winked and many in the electorate nodded. Now a new form of extra-judicial, extra-constitutional and extra-electoral governing has been put in place. Strategically placed yellow ribbons are a clever public relations move but, at the same time, they underline that fact that governing by the gun resonates with broader cultural perspectives on national leadership.