Features

A revival of Thai democracy?

Thailand’s election will be flawed, but it’s a step forward. Matthew Partridge reports.

939-Thais-634

Thanathorn: Thailand's Macron

"Nearly five years after Thailand's 2014 military coup, the populist movement that the army has overthrown twice in a decade is contesting an election on Sunday that its leaders say is rigged against it," says Reuters. There are 81 parties competing, but "the race has shaped up as one between Pheu Thai and allies versus the pro-army Palang Pracharat party that nominated Prayuth Chano--Cha as prime minister".

The election is a continuation of the rivalry that has resulted in the military intervening twice, in 2006 to oust Thaksin Shinawatra after he won a second term, and again in 2014 to topple a government that had been led by his sister, Yingluck.

Three main choices

Still, the former will have some impact since "lagging wages, a precarious job market and falling commodities prices have made the daily struggle to get by a key concern, and major parties are wooing voters with promises of cash handouts, farm subsidies,small-business tax breaks and other benefits".

Thaksin's party and the military junta may not be the only choices on offer, says Shibani Mahtani in The Washington Post. The Future Forward Party led by "suave billionaire" Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit offers an opportunity to break the "seemingly endless loop" of "coups and corruption charges".

The scion of a billionaire family, Thanathorn has drawn comparisons to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and has "quickly acquired a growing cult following among the young urbanites of Bangkok". His movement is seen as "politically naive and lacking support outside urban areas", but his party could benefit from tactical voting by former supporters of the banned Thai Raksa Chart party.

Sham elections

"The army has virtually guaranteed that it will hold on to power." And "even if anti-junta parties scrape together a majority, a judiciary and election commission loyal to the army could block the formation of a civilian-led government or appointment of a new prime minister".

It's true that the elections are a long way from being "free and fair" by Asian, let alone Western, standards, says Kiat Sittheeamorn in The Diplomat, and seem designed to make sure that the junta wins whatever happens. Still, it would be a mistake to give up on them. History shows that "we should make use of every democratic opening no matter how limited to push toward a more democratic direction". The large number of first-time voters means that "these elections may just surprise us".

Recommended

YouGov's Global Banking & Finance Report 2021

YouGov's Global Banking & Finance Report 2021

How COVID-19 is “changing finance” – a high-level overview of financial attitudes, preferences and habits in 17 global markets, encompassing payments,…
1 Mar 2021
What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?
Government bonds

What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?

Central banks around the world are determined not to let interest rates go up too quickly or by too much – a practice known as “yield curve control”. …
1 Mar 2021
The charts that matter: rising bond yields send markets into a tizz
Global Economy

The charts that matter: rising bond yields send markets into a tizz

Markets suffered a chaotic week as bond yields continued to climb. We look at how the week’s events have affected the charts that matter most to the g…
27 Feb 2021
How Big Tech was humbled Down Under
Tech stocks

How Big Tech was humbled Down Under

An Australian law forcing tech companies to share their profits with news organisations is a crucial test of the evolving power relations between gove…
27 Feb 2021

Most Popular

A beginner’s guide to bitcoin: how to buy bitcoin
Bitcoin

A beginner’s guide to bitcoin: how to buy bitcoin

For the novice, buying bitcoin can be a daunting prospect. Here, Dominic Frisby outlines the process from start to finish.
2 Mar 2021
A beginner’s guide to bitcoin: what is bitcoin?
Bitcoin

A beginner’s guide to bitcoin: what is bitcoin?

As a completely novel concept for many people, bitcoin can take a little effort to get to grips with. In the first of a short series on the cryptocurr…
1 Mar 2021
What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?
Government bonds

What is “yield curve control” and why is it coming to a central bank near you?

Central banks around the world are determined not to let interest rates go up too quickly or by too much – a practice known as “yield curve control”. …
1 Mar 2021