Thursday, April 30, 2009

Understanding middle class disdain for democracy

*All Photos Copyright*
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.


  1. i've read fp article na.

    let me put it this way:

    he's trying to describe some social phenomena all around the globe. he's doing that by applying techniques of analysis/critique he'd been trained.

    there's no inherent "truth" in delineation.

    his analysis in itself is very fine. but you've 2 ask urself ab implications:

    a) forget ab traditional marxist/socialist policies: as today's "poor" are not even proletarian anymore but alienated "lumpen". that is: they don't fit traditional social/class-struggle anymore

    b) we can't polarize between "rural-poor" vs "urban-bourgeois" as there's ongoing collusion

    c) we've "mega-cities" around the globe. citizens of these "mega-cities" hv more in common w each other as opposed to the alienated ones of their very own country

    d) that's global "bourgeoisie". it implies individual effort, social responsibilities. as report claims, "traditionally", it's "middle class" that's backbone of society

    e) be careful na. as article points out, he describes phenomena on global level --- now i'll ask everyone: will u personally be willing & able to support & sustain alienated have-nots? will u?

    f) all of us here r privileged. in terms of 21st century. we share some english ;) we're able to handle IT --- computer, internet, blogs, gprs, etc.

    g) it's a fine article, very fine. i'd hope it'll raise more questions than it does seem to answer

  2. one comment about "free press" which Thaksin was attacking as you said ...

    "attacked, the strong democratic institutions like a free press... "

    strong democratic institutions ?

    you might know that for example Bkk post has played a big role in massacre of Thammasat student back in 1976 - because it has posted doctored photo and thus instigated a very strong ultra-right reaction (those very Red gaurs and other militant thugs you were writing about in another your post)

    perhaps you need to research a bit more into this matter.

    because there are opinions that actually it was not exactly as it is presented now - "autocrat Thaksin attaking freedom-seeking media".

    many of the cases were a court cases for libelious slant used by "heroes" of so called "free speech". many of them (as Veera) has self-proclaimed themselves as victims ...

    furthermore, you might read about the history of major newspapers (Bkk Post, Nation) and TV channels (especially iTV) to grasp a bit broader picture of how media CORPORATIONS in Thailand (not just some oh so poor discriminated suppressed reporters ) have been engaged in politics and power struggle.

    furthermore, you might note that after Thaksin both junta and even Abhisit, have been doing exactly same, in fact MUCH MORE attacks on free press. yet somehow no one on Nation or Bkk Post raises even slightly similar howls as they did during Thaksin's rule. why is that?
    because they in fact have always been very partisan and during junta direct reguime (Surayudh) and then indirect regime (Abhisit) - ALL the Thai media employ the self-censorship and attacks on anyone who is not in line with their bias.

    now - this is what I call ATTACK on 'free media' - by ... MSM media !

    recently Prachathai has posted a fact that 2 Editors on Matichon were sacked - because ... of being accused as "mouthpiece for reds".

    do you happen to see this on Nation or Bkk Post ? of course not ! in fact, Chief Editor of Nation Thanong (whom Fonzi loves and BP also adores :) ) has written in his "blog" that BP and NM blogs are .... red !

    this is Chief Editor of the major english daily, of the perhaps LARGEST Media coropration in Thailand !

    so, my main point is - any Corporate Media nowadays is quite conservative or openly reactionary (as Fox News of Murdoch). and especially so - in Thailand, a country with obsolete feudal system still in place, mixed up with the patronage and mafia-like relations between the businessmen (and certainly Thaksin, Sondhi, Yoon, Yong and many others are first of all are businessmen).

  3. Nation's StateMay 6, 2009 at 3:11 p.m.

    Points well taken from both comments. Thanks,

  4. I read the same article gentlemen. The article mentioned "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."

    TYRANTS gentlemen. We are talking about tyrants. Why should only the middle-class be resisting tyrants? Should I infer that the poor supports tyrants all the time?

  5. Good or bad Thaksin represented progress for the long forgotten rural Thai who are now being pushed aside again.

    No doubt Thaksin was a crook but the PAD and what they represent is the furthest thing from democracy.


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