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Ten Ways To Rig A Democracy: Thailand Edition

Ten Ways To Rig A Democracy: Thailand Edition

During a speech in 1937, Winston Churchill warned that "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers from which they dare not dismount." In the intervening years, we've seen ample evidence that he was right. Any leader who forcibly seizes political power knows that giving it up can be dangerous.


Keep that in mind this weekend when you read that voters in Thailand have elected a new parliament. Sunday's vote will be the first national election in that country since its military grabbed power in 2014, but the generals have taken steps to ensure their seat atop this Southeast Asian tiger remains secure.

Here's ten ways to create a fake democracy, Thailand edition:

  1. In 2016, the military proposed a new constitution that grants the generals sweeping new powers based on broadly worded laws designed to crush dissent. A public referendum on the document was held, but the army made it illegal for anyone to campaign publicly against it. The constitution was enacted with support from only about one-third of eligible voters.
  2. The new constitution makes illegal any act "which undermines public peace and order or national security, the monarchy, national economics or administration of state affairs."
  3. These laws have been enforced: Citizens who simply share or "like" online material that courts say violates these new standards have already been sent to prison and/or re-education camps.
  4. Political candidates accused of violating these laws have been removed from this weekend's election ballot.
  5. Thailand's courts are packed with judges approved by the military.
  6. An Election Commission, appointed by the military, will determine whether the election was fair.
  7. The new constitution allows for direct election of MPs for the lower house of parliament, but it has changed the voting system's proportionality rules to ensure fewer seats go to the political faction associated with the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which has won every national election since 2001.
  8. All 250 members of the upper house will be chosen by the military. This will give the generals the dominant influence within the elected government, because the upper and lower houses will together elect the new prime minister in May or June.
  9. The new constitution permits a person who has not won election to parliament to serve as prime minister. A person like, for example, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has ruled Thailand since the 2014 coup.
  10. It also allows the military to impose a 20-year policy plan that all future governments must honor.

In 1932, Thailand became Southeast Asia's first democracy. For now, representative government in that country exists only on paper.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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In the fall of 2019, weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would change the world, Ian Bremmer asked Dr. Fauci what kept him up at night and he described a "a pandemic-like respiratory infection." Fast-forward to late February 2021 and Dr. Fauci tells Ian, "I think we are living through much of that worst nightmare." Dr. Fauci returns to GZERO World to take stock of the nightmare year and to paint a picture of what the end of the pandemic could look like—and when it could finally arrive.

Catch the full episode of GZERO World, where Dr. Fauci discusses the latest in vaccine roll out, schools re-openings, and plenty more, on US public television stations nationwide, beginning Friday, February 26. Check local listings.

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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