Irrespective of how the new Thai constitution finally looks like, it is becoming clear that a mere tinkering with the paperwork is not going to solve the problems of Thailand’s fledgling and highly unstable electoral democracy. One of the less discussed reasons for such fragility of democratic institutions is the complete absence of any left political party in the country. Anyone surveying the spectrum of political parties in Thailand currently can easily see that every one of them is a right of centre front for one business lobby or the other. This has led to an obvious imbalance in the country’s electoral democracy, which stands on just one right leg and falls down at the slightest political or social provocation.
A popular left party – even garden variety social democrats – openly taking up issues of the rural and urban poor, youth, women and workers will not only provide a much-needed counterweight to the forces of conservatism but also put Thai democracy on a much stronger foundation.
You would think that Thailand’s active and diverse NGO movement may provide some basis for such a leftish political force. But all too often they seem distracted by elitist nostalgia and versions of sufficiency rhetoric (often combined with a simplistic environmentalism that automatically associates modernisation with degradation). As I wrote four days after the coup:
The disconnect from the rural which arises from the anti-modern and anti-capitalist thinking of many of Thailand’s leftish leaning commentators leaves them poorly placed to defend the rights of Thailand’s majority to participate in democratic national politics. Thaksin has badly wrongfooted them, displaying a more acute understanding of rural aspirations than many of these “grass roots” commentators. And the wrong foot is not a good place to be when confronting a coup.