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PAD thug at Government House, September 2008.
From Foreign Policy titled the Bourgeois Revolution:
"The middle class's newfound disdain for democracy is counterintuitive. After all, as political and economic freedoms increase, its members often prosper because they are allowed more freedom to do business. But, paradoxically, as democracy gets stronger and the middle class grows richer, it can realize it has more to lose than gain from a real enfranchisement of society.
Soon after acquiring democracy, urban middle classes often grasp the frustrating reality that political change costs them power. Outnumbered at the ballot box, the middle class cannot stop populists such as Thaksin or Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Once the middle class realizes it cannot stop the elected tyrants, it also comes to another, shattering realization: If urban elites can no longer control elections, all of their privileges -- social, economic, cultural -- could be threatened.
... And once they turn against elected leaders, angry middle classes, convinced they are right, seem willing to use any means to topple presidents, with catastrophic results."
The author puts forth the argument that traditional champions of democracy - the middle classes - are now turning anti-democratic in a number of fragile democracies around the world.
This is being caused by elected leaders, specifically like Thaksin who had formulated winning democratic electoral strategies, paradoxically showing flagrant disdain for democratic institutions and ruling like autocrats.
Thaksin's impressive electoral success is only matched in the profound disappointment of an opportunity lost.
A strong electoral mandate, sound economic and pro-poor policies, and the 1997 constitution seemed like a golden opportunity for the country.
Yet Thaksin failed, even attacked, democratic institutions like a free press, independent judiciary, transparent election monitoring, and civil society leaving the foundation of a stable democracy in peril.
And as the urban middle classes grew progressively uncomfortable with costly rural development and were impotent at the polls to stop it, the previously unthinkable, a new coup, became a reality.
The leap from opposing military interference in the democratic process to Bangkok residents offering flowers to coup-making soldiers had turned the middle-class-as-democratic-champion paradigm on its head.
(For myself, the most memorable label for such middle class democratic-turncoats was 'tank liberals' as offered by one predominant Thai academic who has now fled Thailand.)
And currently, the democratic institutions that might have served as a means of mitigating the downward spiral of national political conflict have been weakened and delegitimized by Thaksin's misrule.
Now the class divide is coming to an impasse with neither the elites nor the poor willing to negotiate a compromise.
Should the elites proceed on their anti-democratic path, the rural poor will be enraged and increasingly understand their cause as noble and just.
Yet currently, it seems the middle class understands this conflict in zero-sum terms. Everything to lose from one-person-one-vote democracy and very little, if anything, to gain.
So it is likely, in the absence of a creative solution in electoral reform or decentralizing power, that the urban middle classes, represented by PAD, will likely continue with their anti-democratic campaign.
* Hats of to the Bangkok Pundit for pointing out the Foreign Policy article.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
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