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.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

More Show less

An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

More Show less

Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.