Democracy In Thailand

10 October 2008

Earlier this month, the streets of Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, seethed as the city suffered its worst political violence in 16 years. Demonstrators from the People’s Alliance for Democracy, some of them armed, attempted to blockade parliament on October 7. Thai authorities responded with tear gas, and both protesters and police suffered injuries in clashes throughout the day.

Thailand’s People’s Power Party-led coalition won the national election last December, largely thanks to the backing of rural voters. But the People’s Alliance for Democracy, a loose coalition of groups including academics, businessmen, upper and middle class urban dwellers and union activists, claims that the government elected in December is acting as a proxy for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr. Thaksin fled the country in August to avoid a trial on corruption charges, but many feel that he still exerts influence over the government via his allies, including his brother-in-law, current Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.

Prime Minister Somchai says that the country’s problems will be resolved through the democratic process. The People’s Alliance for Democracy claims that Thailand’s electoral system is susceptible to vote-buying, and that the powerful rural majority is not sophisticated enough to vote responsibly. It calls for scrapping the one-person, one-vote system. Instead, the opposition party advocates that some lawmakers be chosen by professions and social groups. Thus the electoral power of the rural poor would be weakened.

The protesters say they will continue their rallies until the government steps down. Prime Minister Somchai says he will not step down.

The United States regrets the recent violence and is disturbed by reports that some demonstrators instigated violence against the police. The United States urges all parties to respect the rule of law and address their differences within Thailand’s democratic institutions.

The United States calls on protesters to peacefully express their views in a manner that does not impede the functioning of a democratically elected parliament and government. The United States welcomes Prime Minister Somchai’s commitment to resolving the current crisis within the rule of law.

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