Restive Thais


Democracy is not a prerequisite for capitalism. Rather, successful capitalism creates a hunger for free speech and democratic participation. This has been shown to be true all over Asia: in South Korea, mainland China, Taiwan, Indonesia and -- now, above all -- Thailand.

Of the famous Four Tigers of East Asian economic development, Thailand is the celebrated fifth. Japanese capital has poured in. It has one of the lustiest-growing economies in the world. There are just two things wrong. One is that the rural infrastructure is inadequate and too much of the development surrounds the swollen capital of Bangkok. The other is that people crave the freedom in the intellectual and political spheres they enjoy in professional life or entrepreneurship.

Thailand was once the kind of country that would tolerate the military coup of February 1991, the musical chairs political power for generals and the manipulation by which the armed forces supreme commander, Suchinda Kraprayoon, pushed an unsuitable candidate for prime minister and then removed his own general's uniform and took over himself. But Thailand is no longer that kind of country. It is too industrious, too successful, too big, too sophisticated.

The army crackdown Sunday and Monday on demonstrators, who had occupied the streets since General Suchinda's assumption of power in April, is a setback for Thailand's progress into the front rank of modern nations. The killing of demonstrators, imposition of emergency rule and arrest of the opposition leader, Chamlong Srimuang, can only make matters worse.

Thailand's form of government is not easily characterized. It includes a constitutional king who is held in high esteem, the army generals who have customarily apportioned power among themselves and set limits on civilian politics, and a broad array of civilian political parties in two main coalitions. What the demonstrators want now is for the prime minister to be an elected member of parliament. It is a demand that is easily met.

Much of Thailand's economic growth is owed to the benign rule of Gen. Prem Tinsulanond, prime minister from 1980 to 1988. His success helped transform Thailand into the kind of country for which his brand of autocratic rule was no longer appropriate. He had the wit to realize it and step down before the rising tide demanding democracy. General Suchinda should have the wisdom to do the same.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad