Thai Me Down
In southern Thailand's Muslim provinces, nearly 1,000 people have died during the past year. You didn't see that news on CNN, did you?
Joshua Kurlantzick focusses on Thailand as a typical example of heavy-handed hypocrisy from elected leaders in supposed Democracies. It is a response which only exacerbates the problem of Islamic fundamentalism:
In times of conflict, this is how even democracies tend to behave: Leaders consolidate executive power and punish dissension, while the electorate rewards them - at least initially - for such shows of strength. The war on terror has given cover to governments around the globe - from Italy and Russia to the Philippines and Thailand to even the United States - that have followed this pattern, becoming imperial democracies. But as the example of Thailand vividly shows, heavy-handed efforts in the name of taking on terror have succeeded only in making violent Islamism a more profound and urgent threat...For any US, UK or Australian readers, it's an all-too-familiar pattern:
In democracies - even those with weakened civil societies and enfeebled judiciaries - popular opinion still matters. For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive... Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him...Of course, there is a difference between "demanding" accountability and actually getting it. Either we wrest power back from these power-crazed fools, or we say goodbye to our free Democracies.
So far, Thaksin, Putin, Bush, and others have been unwilling to heed the shift in public opinion. This refusal is due in part to the fact that these leaders all seem to have a tendency never to admit mistakes. But it is also because once the idea of imperial democracy becomes entrenched in a leader's mind, it is very hard to give up. After all, the institutions and culture of a democracy - a powerful judiciary, an aggressive press, a vibrant civil society - can prove extremely frustrating to leaders who want to push through massive changes. In the past four years, as many of those institutions vanished, democratic leaders around the world got used to operating with few constraints, and found they loved it.
Terrorism and insurgencies provide elected officials with an opportunity to exploit an inherent weakness of democracies?the willingness, even eagerness, of their citizens to hand near-authoritarian powers to strong leaders in return for the promise of security. But the lesson of the last five years is that authoritarian tactics tend not to quell insurgencies, but to make them worse. And when that happens, democracies exhibit an inherent strength: their tendency to demand accountability.