Comparing democracy in Burma, Thailand , Hong Kong, and Indonesia

Burma also called Myanmar

    How the Burmese military perpetuates its own myth

  • A buzz phrase that illustrates very succinctly how the military perpetuates the myth that it is the only viable protector of a country beset by internal discord.
  • The constitution shouldn’t be changed, Col. Htay Naing, one of the uniformed MPs, added, because ongoing fighting in the border regions threatened to destabilize Burma. Therefore “unity”, in the shape of fealty to a constitution the junta rushed through in 2008 amid the chaos of Cyclone Nargis, is required.
  • In this sense it’s plain to see how the military actively benefits from instability – Colonel Htay Naing, spelled it out quite clearly.
  • Why this is of particular concern with regards the constitution is that this document, were it revised, could be the one thing that dilutes the military’s power, and then codifies a new order in which the military doesn’t have veto over legislation in what should be a civilian parliament. Resisting this will have a serious impact on whether something approaching a genuine form of democracy ever emerges in Burma.
  • At present, however, conflict clearly remains politically profitable, and because of that we may see the military continue to stoke it for some time. » The Asian Correspondent article – By Francis Wade November 19, 2014


Thailand’s military coup government delays elections until 2016

  • A Thai general election planned for next year will be delayed until 2016, a deputy prime minister said on Thursday, pushing back the promised return to democracy.
  • The New York-based Human Rights Watch said this week that Thailand had “fallen into an apparently bottomless pit”.
  • “Six months after the coup, criticism is systematically prosecuted, political activity is banned, media is censored, and dissidents are tried in military courts,” it said. » The Reuters article – By Amy Sawitta Lefere and Panarat Thepgumpanat – November 27, 2014.

Symbols of defiance against Thailand’s coup

  • Police detained three students on Thursday at the opening of the latest Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay – Part 1, in Thailand, where opponents of May’s military coup have adopted the film franchise’s three-finger salute as a sign of defiance.
  • The (coup) government has banned the gesture, which symbolizes rebellion against totalitarian rule in the movie series.
  • Activists say police pressured the chain to stop the screenings.
  • Student Nachacha Kongudom could be seen raising the salute outside the cinema before being led away by undercover police officers.
    She said: “Normally, this is our right to come out (to the cinema). It’s also within our rights to raise three fingers. This is what normal humans do, but there are some abnormal humans with abnormal minds who prohibit us (from doing this). They use guns to stop us, but they can’t (stop us) .” » The UK Telegraph article and video – By Charlotte Krol, and AP – November 20, 2014.

Thai newspaper : The establishment should stop spreading falsehoods about democracy

  • Without freedom of expression guaranteed, the junta’s bid to implement reforms for democracy and reconciliation lacks credibility.
  • Without free debate, the ongoing selection of candidates for the National Reform Council, which will map out the reform agenda and draft a new charter, is merely a ceremonial endorsement of authoritarian rule.
  • How can this country count on reform in the national interest when even a small discussion on political science is shut down?
  • A group of soldiers and police last week broke up an academic debate on politics being held by scholars and students at Thammasat University’s Rangsit campus.
  • If political discussions cannot be held while the country is going through a reform process, when can they be held? » The Nation Editorial – September 25, 2014. and this related article from the Asian Correspondent.
    • Human rights group Amnesty International has marked 100 days of martial law in Thailand with the release of a report evidencing cases of of alleged torture and ill-­treatment, enforced disappearances as well as a host of extensive human rights violations.
    • its ‘Attitude Adjustment’ report, the UK-­based organization outlined its concerns that “instead of lifting restrictions, authorities are maintaining and entrenching disproportionate restrictions on the peaceful and legitimate exercise of human rights in Thailand”.
    • Amnesty concluded that “the cumulative effect of these broad restrictions and the threat of detention and persecution for peaceful expression are engendering a climate of fear and a culture of enforced silence.” » The Asian Correspondent article – By Lisa Gardner – September 11, 2014.

    ‘Good Intentions’ is a common claim made by coup makers

  • This is not the first time the term “good intentions” has been used. We saw it after the 2006 coup with coup leader Sondhi B saying the coup was staged with good intentions. This was not the first time arguments were made that a coup was staged with good intentions. If we return to Thai history and specifically the 1957 coup by Sarit.
  • Naïve people believed that the 1957 coup was to get rid of corrupt people and provide Thailand with full democracy. Naïve people believe the same thing this time.
  • Each time coup leaders come in promising the same thing. Each time some people believe that somehow democracy can be installed from the top in an environment of martial law and with major restrictions on freedom of speech, and then miraculously at the end of it we will have a democracy…. » The Asian Correspondent article – By Bangkok Pundit – August 27, 2014.

    • It was difficult to find people to become prime minister other than General Prayut. If it’s not him, who else should it be?” one junta official said on condition of anonymity.
    • “He staged a coup. He has to be responsible for solving all the problems by himself. By becoming prime minister, he will have full power,” the official added.
    • Critics see the move as an attempt to purge Thailand of Thaksin’s political influence, which has already been undermined by a purge (since the coup) of his allies in government, state industries and the police.
    • The junta has vowed to remain in place in parallel to the future government, which will be nominated by the new prime minister. » The AFP article – By Boonradom Chitradon – August 20, 2014.
  • On Thursday, July 31, Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej officially endorsed ‘The National Legislative Assembly (NLA), whose 200 members are all appointed by the military junta.
  • A clear majority is dominated by active and retired military officers, while the rest consists of businesspeople, academics, technocrats and former senators.
  • Former politicians of recent governments are barred from eligibility as stated in the recently established interim constitution.
  • This is another step by the so-called “National Council for Peace and Order” (NCPO), as the junta formally calls itself, in its self-proclaimed “reform process” since the military coup of May 22, 2014, with the promise of new elections sometime in late 2015. » The Asian Correspondent article – By Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices August 01, 2014.
    • Ambika Ahuja, a specialist on Thailand at Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk consultancy, believed Prayuth would retain control of the government either as prime minister or defense minister.
    • “Such a move would signify a failure to find a neutral figure to navigate the political conflict and strong distrust of those outside the army,” she said.
    • Ambika at Eurasia Group said the charter gave the army “effective control of Thailand’s constitutional and electoral reform”. » The Reuters article – By Panarat Therumpanat and Kaweewit Kaewjinda – July 23, 2014.

    • “This is not just about the coup,” said Pimlapat Suksawat, health care worker who marched this weekend. “This is about us. Our society is not what it used to be. It’s changing. The lower class is now the middle class. We are educated, we are no longer poor, but still they look down on us.”
    • Pimlapat said that “fewer people are smiling this time … And if we don’t come out to stop them, they’ll do it again.” » The full Associated Press article – By Todd Pitman – May 28, 2014.

      Thai junta’s gag on media raises alarm, criticism

    • Critics and journalists have raised concerns about the Thai military government’s latest move to tighten its grip on the media by banning them from criticizing the junta’s operations. » The AP article – July 20, 2014.

    Criticism of the junta now banned in schools

    • Under new orders from the Office of Basic Education of Thailand (OBEC), criticism of the military junta is now banned in all Thai public schools. » The full Asian Correspondent article – Bangkok Pundit – June 10, 2014

    Looking Back: » Thailand 11 months after the last Thai military coup in 2006.
    Looking Back to: » 2008 after the coup backed party lost the election

    Economic fallout from the mass exodus of Cambodian migrant workers

  • More than half of laborers on construction sites typically are foreign workers, mostly from Myanmar and Cambodia, said Aungsurus Areekul, president of the Thai Contractor Association.
  • The high outflow of the Cambodians “has caused a problem at some construction sites. It also has alarmed other migrant workers from other countries. So there are some impacts,” Mr. Aungsurus said.
  • As many as 70 percent of the workers involved in loading grain at warehouses and moving it to vessels have left the country, Chookiat Ophaswongse, the association’s honorary president, said by phone from Bangkok yesterday. That could delay deliveries by as much as three weeks, he said. » The Asian Correspondent article – By the Bangkok Pundit – July 6, 2014.

  • The biggest worry for investors is that long term-instability will result in inconsistent economic policies,” said Ryan Aherin, Asia analyst at risk advisory company Maplecroft.
  • “While investors are not likely to pull out of Thailand at this point, they may hold off on starting any new investment in the country until there are elections and signs of longer-term stability.” » The full AFP article – By Amelie Bottollier-Depois – June 8, 2014.

  • “Thai military coup has no justification”

    • The United States is calling for the release of all of Thailand’s senior political leaders who are currently in military detention following Thursday’s coup.
    • The U.S. State Department is urging Thailand’s military to restore the ousted civilian government, return the country to democracy and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a blunt statement, said “there is no justification for this military coup.”
    • U.S. ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney told VOA the military takeover will have ramifications for the diplomatic relationship between the two countries, which goes back to 1883.
    • “A coup in Thailand will have a negative implication. There will be a high-level review in Washington by the United States government of our assistance and our engagement with Thailand, especially the Thai military,” said Kenney. » The full VOA article – By Steve Herman – May 23, 2014.

    Biased courts and election officials continue to manipulate laws to cripple democracy in Thailand


    Voter trying to reach the poll – Image source and article
      Editor: The February 2nd general election saw 89.2% of polling stations operating normal in 69 of the 77 provinces. Over 20 million votes were already cast of the 44.6 million eligible voters and more will be cast when nine southern provinces, and a number of polling stations in Bangkok have a chance to vote. Absentee balloting in Bangkok is also reopening on February 26th.

    • Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban publicly assured followers the ballot will be nullified, and Verapat Pariyawong, an independent Harvard-educated lawyer, said there was “no doubt” the Constitutional Court will end up hearing a case to annul it.
    • But he said it would be “absurd” to expect the court to “to stay strictly within the limits of the law … history has shown that this court is willing to play politics from the bench.”
    • puppets Image source

    • If the ballot is nullified, though, Verapat said there will be “more blood on the streets,” a reference to the expectation that government supporters in the north will not sit idle if Yingluck is toppled. » The full AP article – By Todd Pitman – February 2, 2014

    Thailand Votes for Democracy on February 2nd as non elected (coup created) institutions use every tactic to cripple it

    • A judicial coup would reward the Democrats for bad behavior.
    • The military and aristocratic elite considerably enhanced the court’s power in the 2007 Constitution put in place after a military coup. Along with the National Anti-Corruption Commission and other non elected institutions, it is now the chief guardian against the pro-Thaksin forces. Since it can and does strike down amendments to the constitution, its power is near absolute.
    • However, should the court and the NACC use their power to remove Ms. Yingluck and Puea Thai, it could prove to be their downfall.
    • A 2014 judicial coup would likely cement public views that these institutions are no longer a check on executive power but instead a tool for dictatorship. Rural Thais, who make up the bulk of the population, are losing patience with such arrangements designed to thwart their ability to elect popular parties.
    • When a party in a modern democracy behaves like a spoiled child and boycotts an election, its punishment should be sitting on the sidelines until it decides to grow up. » The full Wall Street Journal article – February 3, 2014.

    The current antigovernment protests in Bangkok (and blocking Thai’s from voting) are the last gasp of Thai dynastic paternalism (1)

    • They reflect the determination of the old elite and its middle-class allies to check the rising power of the formerly rural electorate by bringing down the Yingluck administration.
    • They are calling for the creation of a “people’s assembly,” an unelected temporary governing body representing different occupational groups that would oversee a process of political reform — in effect, a dictatorship of the capital over the rest of the country.
    • Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat Party, last won an election in 1992; its conservative, pro-bureaucracy bases in Bangkok and the south are not big enough for it to secure a national majority. And this very sore loser is now playing a central role in trying to oust an elected government.
    • Instead of occupying ministry buildings in Bangkok, the Democrats would do well to make serious attempts to woo provincial voters. Urbanized villagers cannot be wished away by the Bangkok elites; they rightly expect to share the benefits of Thailand’s remarkable economic success. When they no longer are treated as underdogs, their pragmatic ties with pro-Thaksin parties will wither —» The full New York Times Op-ed – By Duncan McCargo – December 19, 2013.
    • Duncan McCargo is professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds and a senior research affiliate at Columbia University.

      (1) paternalism – the policy or practice on the part of people in positions of authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates’ supposed best interest.

      Opinion: Thai opposition boycott a slap in the face to voters

    • the Democrats have delivered a slap to the face of not only to the 47m eligible voters, but also the 11.5m people that voted for them in the last general elections 2011.
    • The boycott decision also shows that it doesn’t even acknowledge that it could have been part of the solution, but instead is becoming part of the problem.
    • Whatever their gambit is (most likely creating a political gridlock in order to provoke a military or “judicial” coup), it will hurt the Democrat Party in the long-run. » The full Asian Correspondent article – By Saksith Saiyasombut & Siam Voices – December 22, 2013 .

      Coup appointed Thai Constitutional Court rulings show it loathes majority rule (except when the court votes) and will end democracy for the people of Thailand any way it can

      From the 2007 article The Rise of Thailand’s Third Branch

    • The concept of an all-powerful judiciary is receiving sustained criticism (again). Chang Noi, a column in the English-language daily The Nation, led the charge with a biting and comprehensive critique. “While the last charter was dubbed the People’s Constitution, this one deserves the title of the Judges’ Constitution,” Chang Noi wrote.
    • “Under this draft, the three very important persons are not the prime minister, president of parliament, or even commander-in-chief of the Army, but the heads of the Supreme, Administrative, and Constitutional courts.”
    • Many legal experts see the dissolution case(s) (of Thai popular elected governments in 2006, 2008 and attempts now in 2014) ) as a sham.
    • Biased courts Image source – By Barry Blitt.

    • Indeed, many wonder how a body created by those who overthrew Thaksin has any right to terminate political parties for allegedly attempting to overthrow democracy. And especially to do so for violating a constitution the junta leaders discarded?
    • “The Constitution Tribunal is illegitimate and the case is completely political,” said legal expert Kanin Boonsuwan, who helped draft the 1997
      Constitution. “Judicial powers have gone too far already; the judges are abusing their power and independence. This is not only about dissolution, but the future of democracy in Thailand.” » The full Asia Sentinel article in pdf format – May 11, 2007

    • Investors have reason to worry. The Thai Constitutional Court and its rulings make it uncertain that anything can work in Thailand

    • Thailand’s skillful macroeconomic management, strong fundamentals, high international reserves, and moderate public debt levels have blunted the impact of recent shocks and are underpinning a recovery, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund said Nov. 12.
    • “The worst is probably over for the Thai economy, and it’s on track for a gradual recovery from the second half,” said Tohru Nishihama, an economist covering emerging markets at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc. in Tokyo. “External demand is recovering, which should contribute to the recovery story.
    • We need to see how the political situation develops.” » More in this Bloomberg article – By Suttinee Yuvejwattana – November 15, 2013.

    Looking Back:

    Thai court throws out legal nonsense petition and creates its own nonsense:

    legal nonsense Image source

    • The court’s insistence that a nationwide vote is required before rewriting the charter amounts to a threat against the government and parliament because the judiciary is asserting powers that aren’t granted in the constitution, according to Kanin Boonsuwan, a law lecturer at Chulalongkorn University who submitted testimony in favor of the amendment.
    • The referendum requirement appears nowhere in Article 291 of the current charter, which grants parliament the right to change the constitution. Yingluck’s party had proposed changing that article to allow for a complete constitution rewrite that would need to be approved in a referendum after it was drafted. » The full Bloomberg article – By Daniel Ten Kate – July 16, 2012.

      Legal nonsense testimony

    • Amending the Constitution to allow a new one to be written is the “destruction of the current charter and violation of the principles of democracy”, law professor Suraphol Nitikraipot said yesterday – the first day of the Constitution Court trial against the proponents of the amendment bills.
    • Suraphol, former rector of Thammasat University who is a key witness for the petitioners, said the post-coup Constitution of 2007 was the only one that was endorsed by the public in a nationwide referendum. » The Asian Correspondent – Debunking the legal nonsense – Bangkok Pundit – July 6, 2012.

    Petition ignored how the existing military made constitution was created in 2007:

    • From Thailand on Spin Cycle – Asia Sentinel – July, 2007 :: Eleven months after Thailand’s military used its tanks to oust premier Thaksin Shinawatra and scrap the 1997 “People’s Charter” constitution, the military-backed government will face its first real test of its popularity when Thais will finally go to the polls for an up-or-down vote on a newly drafted constitution.
    • Last week Defense Minister Boonrawd Somtas told reporters that an election “can take place only if the new constitution passes the referendum.” The 17 million baht that the government has already spent on advertising to encourage a Yes vote has also linked the referendum to an election, implying that a No will simply mean longer military rule. * * PDF copy » The original link – The Asia Sentinel – Written by Daniel Ten Kate – July 11, 2007 –

    Vote Against, ‘Manipulation’

    • Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister and head of the Pheu Thai party, is the first female Thai premier, garnering 264 seats in the 500-member parliament.
    • “It’s not as much a vote for Thaksin as a vote against the manipulation, coercion and suppression that we’ve seen since 2006,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.
    • Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose Democrats won 160 seats, resigned today as party leader and the defense minister said the army accepted the result. » The full Bloomberg article – By Daniel Ten Kate – Published: July 4, 2011.
    • Abhisit also said that he would fight any effort at amnesty for those who opposed him that were charged since the coup in 2006.
    • The generals that staged the 2006 coup already wrote their amnesty in the constitution they created,
    • and Abhisit had immunity from prosecution from: The emergency decree which conveniently “grants officials immunity from prosecution,” the ICG said. » The full Asia Sentinel article – By Richard S. Ehrlich – July 8, 2010.

    • Then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (now heads the opposition party) did not have history on his side in the election

    • (Two years ago): After 91 people, mostly civilians, were killed, Abhisit’s denial that troops were responsible for a single death or injury was mocked even in the Democrat stronghold of Bangkok.
    • A web-savvy generation could, with a few mouse-clicks, watch videos on Youtube showing military snipers firing on civilians. » The full Reuters article – By Jason Szep – Published: July 1, 2011.

    Hong Kong

      China blocking democracy in Hong Kong

      Hong Kong protests: about more than democracy

      Video of Hong Kong police apparently beating protester sparks outrage

    • A video apparently showing six plainclothes Hong Kong police officers dragging a handcuffed pro-democracy protester into a dark corner then kicking and beating him captivated and enraged many in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory on Wednesday.
    • “We start to be unable to distinguish right and wrong,” the police union chief said in an interview with the South China Morning Post. » The LA Times article and video – Story by Julie Makinen – October 15, 2014.
  • As much as these protests have been focused on democracy, they have also garnered widespread support because they speak to this greater loss of culture.
  • Even though the crowds are thinning out for the protests, the tensions that come with the influence of Mainland China on Hong Kong won’t go away anytime soon. » The CBC Point of View – By Elaine Chau – October 8, 2014

  • The “one country, two systems” formula guarantees Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, with universal suffrage set as an eventual goal.
  • However, Beijing last month rejected demands for people to freely choose the city’s next leader, prompting threats from activists to shut down the Central business district.
    • Numbers swelled after local people grew incensed that police fired 87 tear gas canisters at protesters on Sunday.
    • “To be honest, I didn’t really support this, since I’m not really into politics,” says university student Stephanie Cheung, 20.
    • “But then I saw how the police reacted to unarmed protesters. Now I’m here fighting against violence and how the government treats people.” » The Time article – By Elizabeth Barber in Hong Kong -m September 30, 2014.
  • China wants to limit 2017 elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing. Communist Party leaders worry that calls for democracy could spread to the mainland.
  • Hong Kong democracy protesters defied volleys of tear gas and police baton charges to stand firm in the centre of the global financial hub on Monday, one of the biggest political challenges for China since the Tiananmen Square crackdown 25 years ago. » The Reuters article – By Farah Master and Clare Balwin – September 29, 2014.

    • “I’m prepared to be arrested,” Jimmy Lai, a prominent Hong Kong publisher and critic of the Beijing government, told reporters, as he sat down in front of a row of police on Sunday morning, wearing a plastic white raincoat and pair of goggles.
    • “If you persist in resistance, there is always hope,” he told TIME. “If you give up, there is no hope.” » The Time article – By Elizabeth Barber/Hong Kong – September 27, 2014.

  • Hong Kong activists operate openly in a way unthinkable on the mainland. Beijing exercises a broad range of punitive measures against dissidents, ranging from lengthy jail sentences to constant harassment and extrajudicial house arrest.
  • Such restrictions are largely absent in Hong Kong. Activists are free to organize large anti-government protest rallies attracting tens of thousands of demonstrators, thanks to guarantees in the city’s mini-constitution ensuring freedom of speech.
  • Hong Kongers also don’t face politically motivated punishment from the city’s independent courts. More than 500 protesters arrested in July for staging an unauthorized sit-in following a big pro-democracy rally were charged with unlawful assembly and obstructing police, but most were later released.
  • Students vowed to boycott classes, and leaders of the Occupy Central movement said the city had entered an “era of civil disobedience,” adding they would go ahead with plans to paralyze the financial district with 10,000 protesters to press for genuine democracy. » The Associated Press article – By Kelvin Chan and Christopher Bodeen – September 1, 2014.

  • Indonesia democracy

    • At a time when Indonesia has won widespread praise for electing a new president who emerged from the democratic reforms of the last decade, cynical political party interests used a lame-duck session of the legislature in the early hours of Friday to eliminate the direct election of local mayors and governors.
    • The action, which was made possible when outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s party failed to vote down the measure, is a slap in the face for Indonesia’s young democracy.
    • The move hands the power to appoint key local officials back to notoriously corrupt local legislatures, essentially restoring the opaque process in use under the authoritarian regime of the late President Suharto. » The Asian Sentinel article – September 26, 2014.

  • U.S. President Barack Obama congratulated Indonesia’s presidential election victor Joko Widodo, even as the losing candidate rejected the result.
  • That underscored Washington’s intent to deepen ties with Jakarta and support democracy in Southeast Asia.
  • A peaceful transfer of power in Indonesia would buck a worrying trend in the region marred by flawed elections and military meddling. It would also serve to show that democracy thrives in the country with the world’s largest Muslim population.
  • Political change has been comparatively smooth in Indonesia since the end of the 30-year rule of former dictator Suharto in 1998.
  • Over the past year, there have been disputed elections in Malaysia and Cambodia.
  • Thailand, once an example of democratic progress, is facing its most repressive period of military rule in decades. » The AP article – July 24, 2014.

    • Indonesia is poised to overtake Thailand as Southeast Asia’s biggest car market for the first time since 2011 as the region’s most-populous nation delivers faster economic growth and greater political stability.
    • “Indonesia will obviously take the lead this year and it remains to be seen to which level the Thai market will recover,” said Tim Zimmerman, the Singapore-based president of Southeast Asia operations for General Motors Co., the world’s second-biggest carmaker.
    • Auto output in Thailand dropped 29 percent in the first half, while production rose 15 percent in Indonesia. » The Bloomberg article – By Anuchit Nguyen and Lee Miller – August 26, 2014.

    • The Learning Foundation Who chooses the way a country is governed?
      “It’s my country – I can do what I want!” – A Simplified Mock Trial Lesson Plan.
    • The Learning Foundation Making Good Laws: “Is the Thai Constitution credible?”
      Go to this Law and Building a Healthy Society Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – Democracy in Action
      Overview | Students consider words that reflect their knowledge and opinions about democracy. They then work in groups to research countries that have recently transitioned to democratic forms of government. Their learning is further enhanced by reflecting on what has transpired in these countries to date. Go to this Building Society and Law Lesson.
    • The New York Times – Learning Network – The Political is Personal
      Overview | Students explore their own personal political philosophies by identifying events, people and experiences that have helped shape their beliefs and writing an essay. Go to this Building Society and ESL Lesson.

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    LFS Lessons The Learning Foundation as an American non-profit organization developed programs to encourage independent thinking for over 35 years. My name is Keerock Rook and I have been involved with the Foundation since its inception. I edit most of the lessons.