Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational Influences

By Muthiah Alagappa | Go to book overview

8
Thailand The Evolution of Legitimacy

SAITIP SUKATIPAN

FOR a few days in the middle of May 1992, Thailand captured the world's attention as government troops opened fire indiscriminately on thousands of its citizens. The violence on the streets of Bangkok during those three days exceeded even what one might expect from a macabre movie. How does a country like Thailand, after a decade of quasi-democracy and economic liberalism and apparently on its way toward the status of newly industrialized country, become engulfed in such a political crisis? Underlying the series of conflicts that led to the showdown between the military and the prodemocracy forces was the question of political legitimacy. This chapter examines three key aspects of political legitimacy in Thailand: the nature of the legitimacy problem, the substance of legitimizing principles, and the social groups whose consent is crucial to the legitimation of regime and government.


The Nature of the Problem

In contrast to the generally uncontested legitimacy of the Thai nation-state (except in southern Thailand), 1 the legitimacy of regimes and governments has been the subject of periodic and at times violent contention among strategic groups competing for control of state power. Since 1932 Thailand has wavered seemingly endlessly between the two opposing poles of military authoritarianism and parliamentary democracy. There have been as many as fifteen constitutions, seventeen military coups, and two popular uprisings (in 1973 and 1992). Many Thai political scientists have

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