When most Americans think of Thailand what come to mind are images of beautiful beaches, magnificent skills, an exotic culture, and a spicy cuisine. Westerners with any sense of Thai history are likely to associate it with the Siamese ruler and his British tutor made famous by the exuberant Yul Brynner in The King and I. Should they be slightly more knowledgeable, and somewhat more cynical, they may also identify it as a country whose most populous city, Bangkok, is beset by the worst traffic jams in the world and has a well-deserved reputation as the sex capital of Asia.
But one thing they are not likely to contemplate, let alone to understand, is the political history of modern Thailand. Even for those with a modest interest in the subject, the Thai political scene tends to be confusing at best and impenetrable at worst. As generals replace politicians and are themselves replaced by other generals, with unpronounceable names making them as forgettable as they are unimpressive, it is difficult for the distant and occasional observer to make much sense of the game of military musical chairs that has characterized Thai politics for much of the last half-century.
This is unfortunate because Thailand is a country that needs and deserves to be better understood than it has been by all but a handful of academics and diplomats. That is why Thailand's Struggle for Democracy by David Van Praagh is such a welcome addition to the literature on Southeast Asia. Cast in the form of a biography of a great Thai democrat, Van Praagh's account of the life and times of M.R. Seni Pramoj is not only a fascinating story of one man's struggle to plant the principles of democracy and due process in the volatile political soil of the country he loves, but also a veritable Rosetta Stone of Thailand, providing the reader with a road map and driver for safe passage through the tortuous terrain of Thai personalities and politics.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: Thailand's Struggle for Democracy:The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj. Contributors: David van Praagh - Author. Publisher: Holmes & Meier. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1996. Page number: ix.