Thailand's Struggle for Democracy: The Life and Times of M. R. Seni Pramoj

By David van Praagh | Go to book overview

Introduction
FINDING DEMOCRACY IN ASIA

Asians have found the road to democracy hard and long. During the fifty years since World War II, indeed since the modern banner of individual liberty was raised in Asia earlier in the twentieth century, setbacks have outnumbered successes. In Southeast Asia, the scene of the sharpest defeat of efforts by the United States to spread democratic practices in the continent that holds 60 percent of the world's population, the record seems particularly dismal.

The Vietnam War and related conflicts in formerly French Indochina did not lead to secure constitutional governments in which ordinary Asians had a stake. Instead, they culminated in cruel Communist regimes in Cambodia, Laos, and forcibly reunited Vietnam. "People power" punched a hole in a regional pattern of despotism when it overthrew the Marcos family dictatorship in the Asian country most familiar to Americans. But military revolt, Communist terrorism, and weak leadership soon dimmed hopes for the renewed democratic experiment in the Philippines.

China's civil war ended in Communist triumph a generation before Vietnam's did. This was partly because the rival Kuomintang, or Nationalists, had trampled the liberal ideals of Sun Yat-sen. Chinese students bravely went out in the streets for democracy in the spring of 1989, but the Communist party leadership did not dither long before confirming Mao Zedong's dictum that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Mohandas K. Gandhi emphasized nonviolence in seeking independence for India, Asia's other giant. And Jawaharlal Nehru raised the curtain on a new era for democratic development as well as for his country when he said in 1947: "Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny…. The past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now." But the future witnessed the corruption of Indian democracy by human hatred and greed.

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