Thaksin’s Redshirts, apparently with police complicity, succeeded in breaching the ASEAN Summit security in Pattaya, Thailand. ASEAN leaders–among them President Macapagal-Arroyo–had to be hastily evacuated amidst a temporary state of emergency.
Thailand and the Philippines had often been cited for their close political parallelism. Both are fragile democracies rising from the brutality of martial law regimes. Both developed thriving, if weak, civil society communities while the traditional political elite maintain the power. The Thai and Philippine elites are riven by factional infighting even as they confront internal conflicts.
There are, of course, major differences.
In the Philippines, the elite capture of power is channeled through the political dynasties at various levels of the political infrastructure and most political parties are merely instruments of these dynasties.There are no real ideological or programmatic differences among these dynasties and parties; the lone distinguishing characteristic is whether they are in or out of power.
In Thailand, there are also political dynasties and political parties. However, political families tend to be active within the parties. The parties themselves tend to be aligned along their sectoral constituencies or interests and have distinct political platforms and programs.
The institutions of monarchy and the country’s armed forces are major arbiters of the political contestation in Thailand–if not players themselves. In the Philippines, the Catholic Church hierarchy and the armed forces–though playing a similar role–have not yet come to a point where these become decisive in settling the political contestation.
In People Power 1 and 2, it was the middle class–with support from both the masses and the political opposition–who proved ready for political struggle. The Church hierarchy and the armed forces came in late but proved decisive.
The events of 2005-2006 GMA political crisis–fueled by the unprecedented GMA unpopularity–showed the indecisiveness of the entire political opposition, even among the middle class. This led to the indecisiveness of the kingmaker institutions themselves. What came out was the political consensus for the 2010 elections. It is within this context that the heightened struggle against charter change should be appreciated.
In Thailand, Thaksin was a popular choice, especially among the rural constituencies in the North and outside Bangkok. What he tried to do was to build his own political supremacy and undermine the political role of the monarchy and the armed forces. The urban-based middle class and other anti-Thaksin constituencies banded under the Yellowshirt coalition and forced him into exile and dislodged him from power, aided by the tacit (and sometimes overt) support from the monarchy and the armed forces.
However, Thaksin’s supporters are still strong and wield considerable influence throughout the country, including the police forces. His economics of direct government aid to the poor still resonate with the rural poor. The popular support thus engendered is provoking a crisis of Thai democracy. Thailand is now approaching a crossroad: Will it continue with the fragility of its experimental democracy–possibly dominated by Thaksin’s allies, or will it revert to the martial rule of the past?
GMA tries to do a Thaksin economic solution with scant success. The parallelism ends here. Unlike in Thailand, the 2010 elections may well be the Waterloo of the unpopular GMA camp and its presidential candidate. Unless, we have no elections…