The Thai Government has demonstrated various textbook examples of authoritarianism and democratic erosion in the past year or so, and protests continuing despite COVID concerns exemplifies the extent to which the people seek change and perhaps revolution. In particular, Prayuth Chanocha and his authoritarian regime have contributed to democratic erosion on various issues. Using Dahl’s Framework, we can pinpoint certain examples of backsliding and erosion: Free and Fair Elections, Alternative Sources of Information, and Eligibility for Public Office(Dahl 1971). The government and military in Thailand have worked to infringe on these three requirements in particular, through the expansion of military authoritarianism, and as a result have heavily eroded Thailand’s hopes for a return to democracy.
Thailand’s most recent election experienced extensive government intervention, and various human rights organizations and watchdogs have scrutinized them for it. Following their military coup 5 years ago, which in itself often acts as an indicator for authoritarianism. Open Forum for Democracy Foundation, one of Thailand’s watchdog groups, reports instances of vote buying, restrictive regulations, and overall democratic shortcomings. For instance, during the ballot counting, the government conveniently counted out 2.8 million ballots(CNN). In a country of 70 million people, this constitutes a huge amount of their population; even assuming 100% turnout, this still constitutes almost 5% of their population. Although people more or less had the freedom to vote, the integrity of such a vote was completely compromised. In fact, even before the election analysts believed the election would conclude as both unfree and unfair(Guardian). As will be alluded to later, the military rule during their reign post coup enacted other antidemocratic policies, including the complete authority to appoint all positions in their senate. In fact, heading into the election, Thailand’s military government even created their own party, for which they of course slanted the election results towards. However, Thailand and their government’s obstruction of justice does not stop there.
Censorship of anti military party organizations persists in Thailand to this day, and marks yet another instance of democratic backsliding in the nation. According to Human Rights Watch, Thailand’s court order to stop Voice TV represents a textbook improper use of emergency media decrees to censor outspoken media sources (Human Rights Watch). The protests mentioned earlier serve as an important method of the people attempting the uphill battle against government and military authoritarian rule, and the Voice TV took upon the task of reporting and covering such protests. This censorship strikes particularly close to home, with the date of occurrence coming a mere 2 days ago. The censorship has extended to other media sources (The Reporters, The Standard, and Prachati), as well as completely separate mediums; they’ve used similar decrees to censor Facebook Activist Pages, Livestreams of the protests, and even selfies taken at the protests. Other apps, including the popularly used, encrypted app Telegram faces a similar court order against them. All censor attempts serve the same purpose of course; to limit all spreading of information regarding the protests. Suppressing protests in America towards the beginning of COVID took the form of in person attempts: tear gas, rubber bullets, etc. (NYT). In Thailand however, and amidst the worse parts of COVID, the main suppression methods come about online. Perhaps it represents a sign of the times, or perhaps it represents only that which their government feels confident to control. Regardless, in a rapidly growing reliance on digital media, Thailand’s unlawful reliance on censorship represents a perfect example in Dahl’s eyes of a country hurting democratic attempts.
Thailand further contributes to democratic backsliding and erosion through their appointment process and the removal of all eligibility for public office. In place of a more standard, voting in senate election process that represents the people of the region(which Thailand actually had in place before the coup, with the most recent real election taking place in 2008), all 250 appointees in the Thai senate come about strictly from the Thai Executive branch(Junta). Their backgrounds represent the complete opposite of those they are of course meant to embody. According to the Associated Press, over 100 of the 250 appointees have already been holding power in the country as a result of the coup; both cops and soldiers within the junta contributed to the coup, and reaped the benefits, including the newly appointed senate positions. As is commonplace in most appointment arrangements in authoritarian regimes, they are of course expected to vote in favor of he that appointed them, in this case, Prime Minister Prayuth Chanocha. Thailand utilizes their house and senate to vote in/elect their prime minister, and Chanocha unsurprisingly won in 2019, and won’t face another “reelection” until 2024. I wonder if he will win then too….
Through Dahl’s framework, Thailand clearly struggles to formulate preferences, signify such preferences, and have their preferences be weighted equally. Although once representing a democracy, the work of Chanocha has served to reverse and erode that progress, and in turn likely secure his “election” in the coming years.