Iranian and Thai Democracy

If we compare events in Iran over the last few days with the pro-democracy protests in Thailand, does that tell us anything important or interesting about Thai democracy?

Well, the first point of comparison is to observe that, irrespective of what the real vote counts should be in Iran, it is clear that people will vote for who they want to vote for and who that person or party might be does not always coincide with what state or international interests might like. Most people outside of Iran would, I would think, consider the incumbent Ahmedinajad to be a dangerous demagogue and his nuclear ambitions dangerous – yet there seem to be plenty of people willing to vote for him and to agree with the belief that he offers the best means of survival in a world in which powerful enemies are waiting to strike. In Thailand, the ideology is quite different but the mass of people have repeatedly voted for the parties that would provide redistribution from the rich to the poor. Democracy means that people should be allowed to vote for who they wish.

However, both in Iran and Thailand, it appears to be the case that the will of the people is to be denied. Here of course a military coup and newly installed judges were employed to oust the democratically-elected government and then find pretexts to ban the parties involved altogether so that the military could install a compliant right-wing puppet. In Iran, it appears to be the case that attempts have been made and are being made to prevent the popular vote being recognised – violence is currently being used to suppress the desire for democracy and it is not yet clear what the results will be (apart from inevitable bloodshed).

In both countries, the state authorities have been perfectly willing to use violence to disperse pro-democracy protestors – there seems to be more scrutiny on the Iranian situation (although of course it is a much more secretive and controlled society so access is more limited) and the international media is less willing to accept state-provided pretexts than they were in the case of Thailand.

In both countries, real power is wielded by extra-constitutional figures who prefer to act largely behind the scenes (or sometimes blatantly in public knowing that the media will remain quiescent). In Iran, these figures clothe themselves in religious robes and therefore make themselves immune to criticism – extensive propaganda campaigns are used to promote a state ideology equating religion with patriotism and virtue and aiming to make any dissident considered to be vicious and evil and an ‘enemy of the state.’

The attitude of the USA is different: Iran has suffered from years of persecution by the west and America in particular down to the ill-advised Bush ‘axis of evil’ policy. Part of Iranian voting behaviour may be seen in that context. In Thailand, the US was willing to support (or at least not convincingly condemn) military intervention because of co-operation by the Thai military (allegedly) with extraordinary renditions and torture and because the democratically-elected government was viewed as aiming to become too friendly with China (in reality as a means of diversifying export and production markets).

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JW has been one of the first contributors to this blog before he gave up on it all in April 2010, during a time when Thai society got more and more polarized about political matters because of red-shirt protesters.

3 thoughts on “Iranian and Thai Democracy”

  1. please read :

    Is Iran More Democratic Than Thailand?

    I think Kh. Pluem raises many interesting points there:

    … the storyline of angry supposedly pro-democracy demonstrators [similarity with PAD?] is now familiar, and in many instances represents a graver threat to democracy than the supposedly authoritarian leaders [similarity with Thaksin?] they are protesting against…

    … it is in Thailand, where angry street mobs have for the past three and a half years challenged the legitimacy of successive democratically elected governments, that the structural parallels are starkest with Iran. Former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who notched two thumping election victories and a legally contested third, was criticized by his detractors for establishing a parliamentary dictatorship through his consolidation of power and was toppled in a 2006 coup.

    In a true democracy, an elected leader does not lose his legitimacy just because he is opposed by powerful minority forces, nor do those forces have the right to extra-constitutionally remove a democrat leader

    The Guardian Council’s veto powers are in some ways analogous to the situation in Thailand. For instance, Thailand’s election commission is essentially appointed by a group of judges. The presidents of three main courts, two other judges selected by another group of judges, and two elected politicians from the ruling coalition and the opposition make up the Thai commission’s selection committee.

    The five-to-two domination by unelected judges, officially appointed by an unelected head of state over those with democratic accountability make for an undemocratic screening process dominated by the conservative legal establishment. Hence the role of judges in Thailand, in some ways, mirrors that of the Guardian Council in Iran.

    But Iran’s Guardian Council is not its most undemocratic institution; that role is reserved for Khamenei, who has the power to appoint the heads of the judiciary, state-owned broadcast networks and the armed forces; he also has final say over defense and foreign policy as commander-in-chief.

    Iran’s Supreme Leader wields powers akin to those of an ancient monarch or modern day dictator. It is Khamenei’s unelected status that is behind the opinion that Iran needs to go through a political revolution to undo the excesses of its 1979 religious revolution.

    It is thus interesting, from a pro-election perspective, that the top governing structure of Iran’s Islamic theocracy has its democratic aspect – at least in the electoral sense.

    … in technical terms the Iranian Constitution provides for a checking and balancing mechanism that reflects the country’s religio-cultural traditions within the framework of a modified conservative democracy.

    Iran’s Assembly of Experts is also in charge of supervising, dismissing and electing the Supreme Leader, and in the event of his death, resignation or dismissal, the body is vested with the power to take steps in the shortest possible time to appoint a new leader…

    Thus it could be argued that Iran’s leadership transition plan is more democratic than the soft and hard dictatorships and monarchies of Asia and Europe

    Where monarchies remain in the world, the semi-authoritarian tendencies are often well-veiled and limited

    Iran’s mechanisms for checks and balances, including the crucial role of the Assembly of Experts, demonstrates a more highly evolved democracy, even with Islam integral to its rule and operation…

    For as long as Islam remains Iran’s state religion, the role of Ayatollahs will always be respected and influential. Can the same be said for Thailand’s unelected institutions and personages? Some argue that the much-touted national sense of “Thainess” has been promoted by the state-controlled school system, which inculcates students with a pro-establishment bias. But is Thailand’s semi-democratic rule, which is supposedly guided by divinity and arguably managed by nominees, truly cultural or imagined?

  2. Completely disagree on the Thailand’s points.
    I was in the kingdom before and during thaksin in power. how can you call that democratic elected government? May be brought-off votes can call democratic way in your country and so you do, but I don’t think vote buying is democracy.

    Thaksin supporter shamelessly making vote buying a rightful way of thai democracy. I hope your country will experience the same attitude and level of bought-off voting in every election! And you will know that it is not thing close to democracy.

    Thaksin abused of power also something I can not call it democracy.
    You can not admit that the poor in Thailand are the one drag Thailand democracy backward.
    Just because they said they poor, I don’t think it can give them a right to get vote buying money and set it as a standard for every election.

    I recommend you read more of thai modern political history before you try to show how little you know about Thailand!

    Find out what gov brought Thailand down to her knee and end up seek help from IMF.
    Then see what was thaksin doing in that government, and “who” was the main supporter of that government.
    Then the same supporter vote the same people back just change a PM to thaksin, and let them bankrupt country for the 2nd times.

    Stupid you if you don’t see why majority thai went to protest the dictator thaksin and his corrupted people who had destroyed the country in the past.

    Thai military is always a dump-ass of the society anyway. They step in and kick thaksin out because he went too far and got some ugly issue with some of the royal family.
    But that doesn’t eliminate the fact that he is a dictatorship, corrupter and heavy vote buyer. It is not democracy.
    And to think that every anti-thaksin is rich and support the military is sound stupid.
    Many poor anti thaksin’s corruption, and hate stupid backward thai military.

    The yellow t-shirt leader may offer some stupid system dictatorship alike.
    But do you see in the reality that the government today even tries to apply that rule?

    Sorry, They don’t. you are wrong!
    they are not the military puppet as you want to see.
    If the government today is the military puppet as you said, why we don’t see them try to enforce the yellower t-shirt rule? Try to answer your self.

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