Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Democracy's Shallow Roots

The Christian Science Monitor had this to say in its analysis of the coup in Thailand:

In many Asian nations, democracy's roots remain shallow because poor, rural peasants are vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation by urban power brokers, whether they be rich politicians, army factions, powerful businessmen, or royalty. Personal loyalties can matter more than the merits of issues. Votes can be bought with T-shirts, and guns go a long way to keep farmers in line.

It parallels a point Anatol Lieven made in the Spring 2006 issue in arguing for the importance of development as a component of realism, as opposed to superficial democratization. In discussing Pakistan, he notes: "The parties routinely described in the Western media as “democratic” are in fact congeries of landlords, clan chieftains and urban bosses vowing more-or-less temporary allegiance to some national leader like Benazir Bhutto."

The fate of Thaksin is interesting because it falls into a discussion that the next issue of TNI will have, from Parag Khanna and Lawrence Groo, on the problems in moving ahead with democratization when power is strongly concentrated or personalized around a single figure in the executive branch.

Thailand has been one of the long established and also modernizing states of Asia. Together with China, Japan, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, Thailand has been trying to reform and alter its government and polity to successfully deal with Western modernity and power over the last 150 years.

None of these states mentioned above are quite there yet (not even Japan with its restricted freedom of speech and its opaque politics) and there are lapses from time to time.

I am not going to include India in the category above because, in my judgement, the Indian polity - if not the state itself - is yet to even admit there is an issue of Western Modernity to be dealt with.
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