Tuesday, September 19, 2006

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The worst form of government in Thailand and Hungary

It's strictly a coincidence that third-wave democratic governments in Hungary and Thailand are having a spot of trouble today. There does seem to be a loose commonality in the underlying sources of the instability, however.

Why the attempted coup in Thailand? The BBC has a good backgrounder:

Thailand's latest political crisis traces its roots back to January when Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra sold his family's stake in the telecoms firm Shin Corp.
The move angered many, mainly urban Thais, who complained the family avoided paying tax and had passed control of an important national asset to Singaporean investors.

It led to mass protests and calls for the resignation of the prime minister, who was already under pressure over his handling of a Muslim insurgency in the south and his extensive control over the media.

In a bid to tackle the crisis, and to show he still had widespread public support despite regular massive street protests in Bangkok, Mr Thaksin dissolved parliament in February and called a snap election for April.

Mr Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party won 57% of the vote in the April election, but millions of Thais cast protest votes and the opposition refused to take part.

After weeks of limbo, Thailand's highly-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej called the situation a "mess" and ordered the courts to sort it out.

The election result was ruled invalid by the Constitutional Court and a new date was set for later this year.


As for the situation now, the BBC also reports that: An army-owned TV station is showing images of the royal family and songs linked in the past with military coups." To which I must say -- there are songs associated with military coups???

As for Hungary, here's the Associated Press explanation:

Protesters clashed with police and stormed the headquarters of Hungarian state television early Tuesday in an explosion of anger over a leaked recording of the prime minister admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said the overnight riots were "the longest and darkest night" for the country since the end of communism in 1989. About 150 people were injured, including 102 police officers, one of whom suffered serious head injuries, officials said....

The outpouring of rage may be linked to austerity measures Gyurcsany's Socialist-led coalition has implemented in order to rein in a state budget deficit expected to surpass 10 percent of gross domestic product this year the largest in the European Union.

The government has raised taxes and announced plans to lay off scores of state employees, and introduce direct fees in the health sector and tuition for most university students.

Until the scandal suddenly broke this weekend, the 45-year-old Gyurcsany had been the Socialist Party's golden boy a youthful, charismatic leader promising to lead his nation to the prosperity as a full EU member.

His coalition with the Alliance of Free Democrats in April became the first Hungarian government to win re-election since the return to democracy in 1990.

The violence came after a mainly peaceful protest outside parliament attended by several thousand people began late Sunday, when a recording made in May was leaked to local media in which Gyurcsany admitted to repeatedly having lied to the country about the true state of the Hungarian economy to win April's elections.

In both countries, the formal electoral rules and laws seem incapable of dealing with shady behavior by duly elected officials.

A mark against democracy? Well, yes, but only until one considers Winston Churchill's thoughts on the matter.

posted by Dan on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM




Comments:

To which I must say -- there are songs associated with military coups???

Of course. Who can forget the classic Edith Piaf number Non, je ne regrette rien. and its connection with the resistance to the resistance in Algeria/France?

posted by: Mitchell Young on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Having lived through 6 Military coups in Nigeria, there are songs associated with Coups. If you wake up in the Morning and Radio/TV goes blank except for Martial music on the radio and Past Military parades on the TV you know a coup is in progress.

posted by: tmex12 on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Yes, the Thai coup is a blow for democracy because even if the military quickly turns over power to a civilian administration, this coup only proves that a sufficient check on military power has not been established. that being said, i was surprised the coup didn't happen 6 months ago.

posted by: Jen on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Coups are the way power passes from one person to another in Thailand. The alternative would be a debate in public, with disagreements and dissenting views expressed. The fact that a coup has taken place means that all the dissenting factions have finally arrived at a consensus. This is backroom democracy. Isn't this how corporations are run?

posted by: Jim on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



It is too bad that the American people care so little about their government. They have long since had similar reasons (though, probably greater crimes then in Thailand and Hungary) to support a coup against Bush and his gang of criminals. But people in the USA don't even know what their government is, let along care enough about it to do something. It really is a shame.

posted by: twinish on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



I don't know about coup songs, but we need to have a troll song for this blog. "Oh, when the trolls/come marching in/ oh, when the trolls come marching in..."

posted by: srp on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Reporting here from my adopted country, Thailand. I was told last night at 10:30pm by my Thai wife that a coup was in progress while she went immediately to the TV and looked for news. There was no local news, just the standard reels of the king and his good works which are common here in the media. The funny thing is that these reels were in KARAOKE! Thailand never ceases to amaze me. As far as the music and the images of previous coups are concerned, it doesn't surprise me, as one must act swiftly as Big Brother with the most effective propaganda one can use in an arsenal when attempting to seize power. And in Thailand this means you throw on the color of the Monarchy (yellow), play images of the king's life, and if you're really good, play karaoke so everyone can sing along. Thais love karaoke.
Upon hearing of this coup my heart jumped and I was excited to get my Third World fix as I have read so much about political turmoil in developing countries in the past. Then I realized that a coup in Thailand is nothing extraordinary. And after 16 constitutions, any news of revoking the constitution certainly won't surprise me either.
I went on a rant with my wife about how Thailand didn't have democracy; that majorities rule in democracies and that it wasn't for the Bangkok elite to decide for rural Thais. "Yeah but Thaksin is manipulating the poor.." she answered. Back and forth we went on.
There's more to the story, a subtext that goes far deeper than Thaksin, which I'm reluctant to speak about as I live here and there are limits to what can be criticized. Suffice it to say that power has been usurped from the Thai people in a different way, since 1932, and because of it democratic institutions are extremely weak here thus precipitating this current crisis.
What the world is seeing now I have had to live with day to day, for three years at work: a disgustingly wealthy boss in an environment where decisions are made not on principles, but irrational and emotional fiat. Welcome to Thailand!

posted by: mem on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



In Thailand, why did the opposition refuse to take part in elections? If the prime minister is really that unpopular, if Thai people do not want him, what better chance than an election to express that? If the opposition chose not to confront the prime minister in fair elections, the army does not have a right to oust him (if elections were held and the incumbent won by fraud, my opinion would be different).

posted by: Kerim Can on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



This "cure" has to fail; it is clearly worse than the "disease," but let's look for a moment a little southward. Does anyone in Singapore protest - can they protest - about the windfall their investors are taking out of the pockets of the Thai public; the asset built by kinking the Thai political and economic systems and then "churned" for a huge profit?

posted by: Manuel Belgrano on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Kerim,

The opposition refused to take part in the election because it was called for the sole purpose of heading off a censure debate on the assets issue and was scheduled on such short notice that the incumbent party would be at a huge advantage. I don't see this as a great right or wrong issue, but tactics versus tactics. Both sides were acting on base motives.

What if the criminal court, prior to the coup, had found the election commission guilty of receiving bribes from the Thai Rak Thai Party and sentenced them to 2 years in jail?

Would that meet your criteria for fraud? It hppened last week.

If TRT is a "third wave" government the first two waves must have been dinosaur and caveman.

I actually have mixed feelings on the coup, but I do think the Taksin government is an elected dictatorship and that the path to the political reform that Thailand desperately needs is more open now than it was yesterday.

posted by: Jack on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



The Thai experts might want to correct or addend me here, by my impression is that recent Thai history is replete with military coups. But they tend to be relatively "benevolent" affairs and tend not affect the economy or the pace of economic development there. One good "weather vane" for Thai politics is the Thai King. He is held in high respect by the Thai people, so when he consents to something, look for popular support. If he disagrees with something, look for civil unrest. And right now he is working with the Thai coup leaders to restore government. Hence all seems to be well for now.

posted by: jprime on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Search for coup at the iTunes music store and you get 150 hits, including "Little deuce coup[sic]" by the Beach Boys.

posted by: Jim Hu on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



Jprime,

I am not a Thai expert, but have lived here for a decade. Coup have been frequent as yuo note, but not uniform in character. Some have been better than others. You are right that the King is widely and rightly respected by all Thai people. His apparent recognition of this coup is is a very positive factor.

posted by: Jack on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



There are troubing international security implications arsiing from the coup. Apparently, the Thai Islamists have kick-up their terrorist insurgency, which will likely gain additional steam with the instability. Investor's Business Daily had a compelling editorial to this effect yesterday, on which I posted. Take care.

posted by: Donald Douglas on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



The big difference between Hungary and Thailand, at least so far, is that democracy has not yet failed in Hungary.

Maybe the Thai military is benign and will restore democracy quickly. But can you have a true democracy if you know it can be ended instantly at any time by the military?

One of the most inspiring moments in relatively recent history was when there was an attempted coup in Spain in 1981, and King Juan Carlos vigorously supported the still young democracy.

Military uprisings in Argentina have been suppressed as well in the years since the end of the military government that ruled Argentina in the 70s and part of the 80s.

In Thailand, you get the impression that the army is ready with a plan in place for a coup at any moment--one that forestalls a fizzling out as happened in Spain in 1981. Just the fact that the military has such a plan indicates how weak Thailand's democracy was.

posted by: RWB on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]



I don't like coups, and also I can't be sure I understand how things work in other countries until I learn a lot about the particular place.

It might be a big help to the USA if, when we get into a legislative snarl we don't know how to get out of, somebody with authority but no particular bias could announce "Time out! 15 yard penalty! New elections!" and enforce it. Not so good that you have to depend on them to know when to do it and to be unbiased, but there've been times it might have helped us out a whole lot. 2003, say. And 2004. 2005. 2006. Just having somebody reliable to supervise elections would be a great big help.

posted by: J Thomas on 09.19.06 at 01:13 PM [permalink]






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