Edited by Brian Bridges and Lok Sang Ho
Chapter 11: Democracy, Governance, and Regime Cycling in Thailand
William Case Within South-East Asia, Thailand’s experience with democracy began earlier than any other country save the Philippines, and, even more than in the Philippines, democracy in Thailand can be identified as home-grown. For extended periods, then, civil liberties have been respected and elections have been competitive, precipitating regular turnovers in government. And yet democracy in Thailand has failed to gain equilibrium. Rather it has collapsed episodically into authoritarian rule, perpetuating a distinctive pattern of regime cycling. Why has democracy in Thailand failed to consolidate? This chapter argues that, while at least temporal gains have been made in civil liberties and elections, progress in governance has failed to keep pace. Rather, political and business elites, in finding expression through political parties, have sought state power not to produce public goods, but more narrowly to accumulate patronage. And, in doing this, these elites have thus excluded other elites, especially in the bureaucracy and military, who have sought the same access to state largesse, thereby fomenting deep disunity. Further, excluded elites have responded by mobilizing social forces alienated over policy ineptitude and corrupt practices, hence precipitating direct action and military interventions. This is not to argue that a lack of sound governance is itself enough to destabilize democracy. If anything, corrupt practices continue to be worse in Indonesia (notwithstanding recent improvements) than in Thailand, yet democratic politics, whatever their functionality, have persisted (McLeod 2005). More pivotal, then, are configurations of disunity in which excluded elites, in their pursuit of patronage, seek to...
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