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Democracy for Thailand? ... It’s complicated, Shelby Kaplan

The time period and topic selection for Unit 5 of our program could not have come at a better time in Thailand’s political history.  After much discussion about our group interests and feasibility, we decided that we would pursue democracy and development of Thailand.  Throughout all of our previous units we heard about the frustrations and struggles that villagers, NGOs and government officials all face while trying to pursue or protest various developmental projects without an existing, functional government in Thailand.  Red and yellow shirts have taken turns protesting the current political situation and national tension has now led to murmurs of civil war.

We had gained brief insight into the complexity of the political situation from attending and interviewing voters at the February election that was recently nullified by the constitutional court, exchanging with red shirt villagers during community stays, and from our security updates with Ajaan Dave.  After hearing multiple times that we may have to pack our bags and escape to Laos when civil war breaks out, we decided that we should take it upon ourselves to become more educated about what is shaping and breaking the country we have been studying in for three months.

My big introduction to the messiness of the red and yellow shirt conflict was at a meeting that I attended in Bangkok for an organization called P’move or People’s Movement for a Just Society, whose main purpose is to unite and fight for the rights of the poor in Thailand.  This meeting was very important for the existence of their movement as the organization is composed of both red and yellow shirts.  If they would be able to persevere through their political differences for the greater good and common goals of their movement, it could potentially serve as a model of democracy for the rest of the country.  The outcome of the meeting was not what I expected at all though.  No solid decisions were made about any of the topics that were supposed to be covered at the meeting, including structure and leadership.  This was an eye opener to the fact that this complicated issue has gone so far that it is going to take a lot of work and healing to achieve democracy in Thailand when a once united movement is struggling to maintain itself.  Despite my disappointment from the outcome of the meeting one of the main speakers of unit 5, Ajaan Sulak, believes that the movements of the poor could lead to democracy in Thailand.

Throughout the unit itself our group was able to exchange with a vast array of stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in the current political turmoil of Thailand.  We had the opportunity to meet with common red and yellow shirts, a senator, radio show host, militant, small business owner, NGO and a journalist.  I feel so fortunate that we gained so many different perspectives; because I am now able to see one of the biggest issues of Thailand’s democracy…everyone has their own definition of democracy.

Below are the definitions of democracy that I compiled from the exchanges:

-cannot be defined.  Everyone has their own definition.  There are two parts: majority votes.  If there is no election, not a democratic system

-voice of the people, everyone has to be equal and under same standard of law.  Have free and fair elections and everyone has to accept the laws and regulations

-freedom, justice, equality, government from elections

-everyone has a voice

-doesn’t just mean that majority rules.  Having Dama, reasoning, and cause.  Can be achieved by ridding of the Thaksin system

-freedoms to do things as long as it doesn’t infringe on other people’s rights

-freedom of expressing whatever you think without being an enemy and politicians can safely campaign where they want.  The proper election system would be run politely, not harmed by opponent, all policies laid out, and no interference.


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