Some interesting academic commentary on the state of democracy in Thailand is provided in today’s Nation. Here are some extracts:

Many political and social critics believe that after four months in power, it is now clear the Thai public should not expect much change from the military junta and new government it put in place. What is more important, they say, is for Thais, especially the middle class, to take responsibility for their role in perpetuating the ongoing cycle of inept and corrupt leadership and not only demand, but actively participate in the democracy they claim they really want.

“You can’t call for democracy and then ask for coups or some other party to come and clean up the mess you helped put into office,” reasoned Vipar Daomanee of Thammasat University. “We too often hear it’s the uneducated, rural folk who easily allow corrupt candidates to reach political office, but what have the elite and the middle-class backed Council for National Security (CNS) done?”

… “The Thai middle class has fallen into the fallacy trap of black-and-white thinking that if you are not with [the coup group], you are with the other [Thaksin],” said the TDRI’s Viroj. “It’s the fear that if they can’t win outright, then they will lose the battle, and Thaksin will come back to power, and the country will be ruined.”

Viroj noted that education did not seem to guarantee better judgement, as proven by the fact that many intellectuals, technocrats, professionals and journalists have either supported the CNS for personal gain or simply been trapped in the false Thaksin-or-not dilemma.

“Who said people with higher education have a higher [political] morality than rural voters? It’s the same false logic that contends rich politicians aren’t corrupt. While the poor may get trapped by populism, the middle class also gets stuck in flawed ideologies. To me, this emphasises the fairness of the ‘one man, one vote’ system,” Viroj said.

The larger problem is that the educated middle class refuses to question the elite’s monopoly of Thai politics. Viroj estimated that there were only a few thousand men and a sprinkling of women in the Thai aristocracy continuously jostling among themselves for control of the country.

… During the past four months, the CNS has only further muddied these waters, says Yos Santasombat, an anthropology professor at Chiang Mai University. It was time for the “educated” middle class to stop apologising for it, stop asking others to fix it and start demanding that the electoral process and other democratic checks and balances be respected, he said.

Yos, author of “Power and Personality: An Anthropological Study of the Thai Elite”, stressed that Thailand must build a new political culture in which people place the country’s political future in their own hands, not rotate it among the same elite.

Instead of blaming rural people for electing bad governments, the middle class should help strengthen grass-roots politics by supporting political decentralisation, such as provincial governor elections, Yos said.

“Some crooks may get elected, but we have to be patient, so that our democracy can blossom from below. But until we can link the middle class and grass-roots politics to establish political checks and balances, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel.”