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.

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News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

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Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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(Some) Thais fed up with royals: In their largest show of force to date, around 18,000 young Thai activists took to the streets of Bangkok on Saturday to rally against the government and demand sweeping changes to the country's powerful monarchy. The protesters installed a gold plaque declaring that Thailand belongs to the Thai people, not the king — a brazen act of defiance in a country where many view the sovereign as a god and offenses against the royal family are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Activists also got the royal guards to accept a letter addressed to King Vajiralongkorn with their proposed reforms. We're watching to see if the Thai government — made up mostly of the same generals who took over in a 2014 coup and then stage-managed last year's election to stay in power — continues to exercise restraint against the activists. So far, some protest leaders have been detained but they are growing bolder in their defiance of the military and the royal family, the two institutions that have dominated Thai politics for decades. Prime Minister and former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is in a tough spot: many young and liberal Thais will hate him if he cracks down hard on the peaceful protesters, but not doing so would make him look weak in the eyes of his power base of older, more conservative Thais who still venerate the monarchy and are fine with the military calling the shots in politics.

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32: Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra survived an impeachment vote on Friday after only 32 out of 130 lawmakers supported his removal for allegedly trying to block an investigation into misuse of public funds. Vizcarra was in peril just a week ago, but the case for impeachment lost steam after the president was backed by the military and influential opposition leaders who insist the country needs stability to fight COVID-19.

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