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Deposed leader poised to return to Thailand

Thai protesters hold a rally in early August 2013 against proposed legislation that may exonerate former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, allowing him to return to the country. Thai officials braced for larger opposition activity on Aug. 7. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty

Thai protesters hold a rally in early August 2013 against proposed legislation that may exonerate former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, allowing him to return to the country. Officials in Thailand braced for larger opposition activity on Aug. 7. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty

The wave of protests  sweeping all corners of the world has reached Thailand. What’s more: Thailand appears as the latest disturbing example of leaders imposing their will on countries even when not officially in power.

Thaksin Shinawatra served as prime minister of the Asian nation from 2001-06, when he was ousted in a military coup. Upon being charged with abuse of power he fled the country and faces two years in prison if he returns.

Despite being exiled Thaksin’s is far from out of Thailand’s political picture, and a recent amnesty bill proposed by the government could pave the way for his return. The current government — led, not coincidentally, by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra — recently proposed legislation that would absolve those connected with previous political activity of wrongdoing, including actions that led to Thaksin’s overthrow in 2006. While the decree is not specifically intended to apply to Thaksin, opposition leaders worry it could lead to his reinstatement and eventual resumption of power. Bangkok officials prepared for massive protests on Aug. 7, 2013 in connection with this issue, deploying 30,000 police officers, imposing curfews, and closing roads and schools.

Tensions seem to be running especially high in the wake of 2010 protests that devolved into violence leaving 90 people dead. Amnesty International deems the proposed bill “an insult to the victims and families of the 2010 violence”, as it could be used to exonerate those in the military involved in the deaths or injuries of protesters.

I have noticed a troubling trend recently of leaders acting very undemocratically in countries that are supposed to be democracies. Individuals or groups who exert influence even when not in power can create an entrenched political environment difficult to uproot,  stalling progress toward fairness to equality. Thailand is, sadly, just one example of this scenario.

Protests and other (hopefully non-violent) shows of discontent can show governments that people disapprove of favoritism and abuse of power, but it doesn’t always lead to change. If protests don’t work in Thailand, opposition groups could work through elections to change the makeup of the government (though a political analyst quoted in the Guardian article indicates the opposition is fragmented).

With enough support real change is possible, though nothing is assured on the bumpy road to legitimate democracy.

 

Author

Scott Bleiweis
Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

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