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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 15:24 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 15:24 | SYDNEY

Asia's illiberal liberals

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COMMENTS

3 July 2008 09:27

Thailand and South Korea are facing serious challenges to their democratic consolidations. Seoul and Bangkok have been clogged for more than a month with daily demonstrations against their popularly elected governments. Opponents to these governments seem to be trying to overturn the results of the ballot box through demonstrations and misnamed ‘people power’ and the ‘parliament of the streets’. Yet respecting the result of the ballot box, especially when your side loses by a large margin — as they did in both Thailand and South Korea — is a key test of democratic principles.

Democracy doesn’t guarantee governments you like, rather a predictable, institutionalised process where you can try to change governments and where political parties have to appeal to the electorate for their support. Destabilising this process through trying to affect changes of government by demonstration carries a high economic cost and in the longer term a political and social cost as faith in the political system is undermined. The post-Marcos history of the Philippines and the recent history of Thailand itself clearly show this.

Aggravating this common challenge,  many of the demonstrators in both Seoul and Bangkok are members of organisations that pride themselves in helping to bring democracy to their respective countries and upholding the principles of democracy. The main organisation behind the demonstrations in Bangkok is ironically called the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

For Thailand, the biggest worry is that this is the second time in two years that we have witnessed anti-Thaksin demonstrations after Thaksin’s Party and then that of his supporters won decisively at the ballot box and particularly in the poorer most populated areas outside Bangkok (and the troubled South). Let’s hope that we are not seeing the development of a destabilisingly stable pattern of elections and demonstrations in Thailand.

For South Korea, the biggest problem, as always, is the potential for the dastardly regime in Pyongyang to take advantage of political difficulties in Seoul. Pyongyang was clearly very unhappy with the historic win by Lee Myung-bak and the GNP and threatened to complicate his new administration and its firmer line on North Korea. South Korea has a long history of North Korea-friendly student demonstrations. While the numbers demonstrating in Seoul are shrinking, the demonstrations themselves are more violent and some of the demonstrators are clearly supporters of Pyongyang’s regime. In a particularly worrying sign, some of the demonstration graffiti is claiming 'Victory for Kim Jong Il' (a frightful thought for the nervous residents of Seoul and South Korea).   

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