Discussions about the drafting of Thailand’s new constitution have a tendency to revert to the tired claim that the fault of the system lies with the voters who elected Thaksin. Consider this statement from today’s Bangkok Post (bought to my attention by Nganadeeleg):
But, in the end, a constitution no matter how good, is not the ultimate answer to political reform. It is just the tool by which a nation like Thailand fulfils its political aspirations – the success of which depends largely on the users of the charter. Which, in this case, means the politicians and, especially, the voters. If most of our voters continue to vote with their hearts rather than their minds, or continue to vote for whoever offers them the highest price, we will continue to have the same kind of unscrupulous politicians in parliament. And all the effort spent on writing the best ever constitution would have been a complete waste.
Of course, in this elitist discourse, the most problematic voters are the rural unsophisticates who provided Thaksin with his electoral mandate (three times). Rarely is attention given to the role of the educated middle class in obstructing democratic development by trashing the democratic system when it delivers a result they don’t like. So, I read with interest a piece by Jonathan Unger on China’s “conservative middle class”. His account of “the educated middle class vs democracy” casts helpful light on the constitutional hand-wringing of Thailand’s urban commentators:
The educated middle class is elitist. Many of its members do not want democracy–that is, multiparty elections for the nation’s top leaders. Nor did they want this at Tiananmen a decade and a half ago. They did not and do not want China’s peasant majority to play a decisive hand in deciding who rules. Most of them hold the rural populace in disdain, and their fear is that the peasants would be swayed by demagogues and vote-buying. They believe that the rural populace is not yet ready to participate in elections. This is ironic, since villagers have been the only ones in China who have been allowed to cast secret ballots to elect their locality’s leader.
Many members of the educated middle class are vaguely pro-democratic just so long as democracy can be put off to a future time.