The Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) is championing a series of extraordinary laws that seek to extend bureaucratic control over the electoral process (see Asia Sentinel for a good overview of the rules). One of the strangest of the new regulations is the ban on candidates organising public rallies. According to two recent Thai Rat editorials ECT plans to organise at least two rallies in each district at which candidates can present their wares. Thai Rat has, quite rightly, launched a vigorous attack on this ludicrous proposal, defending the public rally as a key feature of Thai democracy. In Friday’s editorial Thai Rat argued that the regulation displayed a lack of understanding of the challenges involved in travelling to centrally organised public meetings in rural areas. Today they keep up the attack saying the ban on public meetings will benefit well known and well resourced candidates at the expense of those with a lower profile. For these less well-known candidates, public rallies are a quick and easy way of gaining profile. Establishing profile is now particularly difficult given the large electorates created by the new constitution.
Of course, this and other laughable electoral regulations are part of the sufficiency democracy view that the political and electoral process needs to be carefully guided by bureaucrats, judges and learned academics. Much has been written about the undermining of democratic institutions during the Thaksin era, but at least local electoral campaigns were vigorously contested in a climate of relative openness. Now the heavy hand of elite bureaucracy seems to be doing its best to limit electors’ exposure to the choices on offer. As I have argued before, sufficiency democracy is about an electoral process where the voters’ choices are limited as much as possible.