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Democracy or mob rule for Thailand?

Publication Date : 03-12-2013


Thai opposition leader Suthep Thaugsuban's goal of a "people's assembly" under the monarchy undermines our democratic foundations

A bad democracy, according to Aristotle, is a democracy true to its name, where the demos (people) exercise the kratos (power). A good democracy, the Greek philosopher said, comes as close as possible to the ideal regime of the politeia (politics), and contrives to distance the people.

In other words, when people exercise power without a clear political platform, the result tends to be chaos and anarchy. Thus any political community needs a clear platform through which "people power" is harnessed and ordered.

The protest led by seasoned politician Suthep Thaugsuban has once again exercised "people power" in street battles. Until he has a clear platform for what he calls "perfect democracy", this country will remain in turmoil.

Protest is a powerful and effective way for people to express their will in a democratic system, but it quickly becomes dangerous when used as an instrument to change an elected government.

It is a sign of a healthy democracy to see people on the streets expressing their demands, but there is no point in them seizing and occupying state buildings and government offices. Such a move might partially paralyse the Yingluck administration, but it could also paralyse the country's wider operations too.

Under the prevailing democratic norm, Thailand has clear rules governing a change in leaders. The government has the power to dissolve Parliament and call a new election. Then, any opposition with a strong enough policy platform has the chance of winning and forming a new government. Or the courts can rule a government guilty of wrongdoing and order it to step down, paving the way for a fresh election.

In contrast, Suthep's goal - a "people's assembly" that will ensure "perfect democracy" under the monarchy - seems undemocratic.

Though the term itself might sound democratic, it is in fact problematic. Suthep has suggested that the people's assembly be selected by a committee. But who would have the power to appoint its members - and by what authority?

The protesters, even if they numbered in the millions, could never be an authentic source of authority, never mind the sovereign power in the nation. The fact is that no single group of protesters could ever accurately represent the will of our 65-million-strong population. There might be, let's say, a few million who agree with Suthep's campaign, but what about the rest? How would a "people's assembly" treat them? How would it accommodate their will and demands?

The democracy that this country understands and aspires to is premised on a universal agreement not only about its ends, but also about its means, meaning and values. In a good democracy, the means justify the ends, not the other way around.


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