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

By David van Praagh | Go to book overview

11
FACING ECONOMIC AND
EXTERNAL PRESSURES

Thailand's dynamism has been most evident in its rapid economic growth, striking in Bangkok's congested bustle and also in regional boom towns and rising agricultural production levels. If Thais cannot resolve their political crisis in a peaceful, democratic way, this expansion will erode and eventually disappear, forcing the country into a Southeast Asian backwater once again. But if they are finally rid of unenlightened generals and can create a vibrant and reasonably clean political system, the economic basis largely exists for a takeoff that will have an impact throughout Asia and the Pacific.

At the heart of the confrontation in 1992, but building up since the 1960s, was the inescapable fact that economic progress and political repression cannot long coexist. "Thailand has transformed itself from a wobbly domino...into the world's fastest-growing economy," commented The Economist during the agony of MAY 1992, noting how far the country had come since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and the military coup in Bangkok the following year. "Thailand can have no prosperity and stability without democracy." An architect facing troops with automatic weapons in a Bangkok street during that May made the same point: "This is the middle class out here—the middle class is in the streets."

Thailand, like South Korea, has found out the hard way that economic growth and military domination do not mix. Comparison with the Philippines illustrates in a different way how political liberty and economic opportunity depend on each other. Both Thais and Filipinos went through a crucial political experience in May 1992. If the general elections that month in the Philippines are not followed by significant spread of economic rewards in a predominantly poor society, the democratic institutions rebuilt since the toppling of the

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