Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Coups in Thailand

This coup in Thailand is a really bad idea, and it's even worse that the King is endorsing it.

Sure, the government may have not been great, and maybe corrupt, but it was still elected. If corruption and waste and incompetence alone were grounds for the military to step in, well, I can think of lots of western countries that deserve a bit of military rule.

But that's not how democracy--and the rule of law--work. Democracy means that sometimes you elect bad leaders. But in a democracy where the rule of law prevails, you endure and wait for a chance to vote the bastard out.

If, tomorrow, General Hillier decided to be done with Harper, even if he were bumbling and useless, the correct thing for the Governor General or the Queen to do would be to instantly demand the restoration of Harper and his government--namely, to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. That's the crown's job.

But what Rama IX has done simply is to say, sure, I'm okay with going around the constitution and the rule of law and endorsing blatantly illegal acts by the army, no matter how salutary the result.

Once the King approves of that, where's the limit? Sure, Thaksin wasn't a great PM, but he wasn't a dictator, and wasn't engaging in the sort of behaviour that might justify the army stepping in. He was elected. If you make a mistake and elect a loser, you don't get a deus ex machina to bail you out--you have to pay for your mistake and vote for someone better the next time. But now the Thai military can say, any time they don't like the government, hey, he was ineffective, so we're going to remove him.

As the Post notes:

The distaste for Thaksin may have colored the tepid U.S. response. "Nobody wants to go to bat for Thaksin. He's just an odious figure," said Michael A. McFaul, director of Stanford University's Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. "But there's the problem -- democracy's not about picking winners and losers, it's about defending institutions."

Lorne W. Craner, former assistant secretary of state under Bush and now director of the International Republican Institute, agreed that U.S. concerns with Thaksin did not justify a coup. "You can't sanction a coup just because you don't like the guy if you're going to stand up for democracy," he said. "It's unconstitutional."
Democracy and the rule of law died a little in Asia this week. Australia is right to point out that it thought Asia had moved beyond that.

Coups are never okay in a democracy, and Canada, which advertises itself as a great promoter of the rule of law, should come out strongly and insist that Thaksin be restored, no matter how bad a PM he was.

The rule of law demands nothing less.

1 comment:

The Individualist said...

Great post.

It's sounding a lot like Pakistan 6 years ago. When Musharaf took power, he promised to hold new elections within a year. Oh, but it wasn't "stable" enough. Aparantly, after six years of packing every government institution with military croanies, it still isn't.

Coups are arbitrary and should be discouraged by the international community. Democracy is not about picking charismatic leaders, it is about competitive elections that prevent governments from consolidating too much power.