Democracies have to accommodate some degree of populist politics. In Thailand, much of the upper and middle-class establishment cannot accept this truism. As a result, the Democrat Party of Thailand, inconsistently with its name, is obstructing some of the most basic elements of democracy, most conspicuously by setting up blockades to prevent voters from exercising their franchise or even registering to vote.
The governing party, Pheu Thai (the Party for Thais), is led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a tycoon and a former prime minister, now in exile. A series of Shinawatra-led parties – the first was called Thais Love Thais – are regarded by the traditional elite as corrupt and demagogic, but compared with the elite, this movement has at least shown greater interest in the rice farmers of northern Thailand and other lower-income groups.
Ms. Yingluck’s government instituted ill-considered rice subsidies favouring the farmers, with predictable consequences of overproduction, huge stockpiles and allegations of corruption. Consequently, this week, a Chinese state-owned enterprise withdrew from a contract to buy 1.2 million tons of Thai rice – a large proportion of the country’s total exports.
Some of the government’s policies are seriously flawed, but that’s no reason for the opposition to block the election. That’s not how things are supposed to work in a democracy. It should confine itself to peaceful demonstrations. Otherwise, the state of affairs in Thailand could be about to go from bad to a whole lot worse.
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