Long-term, what does the crisis in Thailand mean for the Thai people and the international community?
Thailand was the first, and has long been a relatively stable democracy in Southeast Asia. The particular tragedy of the present impasse is that Thailand has had so much going for it.
The divisions within Thai society appear deep, and they are regional.
In Bangkok, you have an educated elite -- doctors, civil servants, and professionals -- questioning whether real democracy is the best path forward for their country. A surprising number of Thais will tell you "Western-style" democracy is not their ideal system.
Whenever a sizable -- and the most literate -- portion of the population in a free and democratic country in a major world region turns its back on the fundamental tenants of democracy -- one person one vote, proportional representation -- it sends a signal. Such a signal is liable to be heard around the world. Conceivably, the discontent of the Thai middle class will prove indicative of a broader trend in the developing world. Echoes of Thailand may well be perceived in nearby China, and as far away as Bolivia.
Meanwhile, inhabitants of regions that risk being disenfranchised by the Bangkok elite -- that is, Thais living in the North and Northeast -- have grown richer and politically stronger than ever before in living memory. One doubts the periphery will sit back and simply allow the center take away what the periphery has won for itself.
Not without a struggle. Not now that that almost the entire Thai countryside enjoys access to television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet. Today, the Thai electorate is positioned to figure out for themselves what is really going on. Farmers will ask how a group of protesters was allowed to shut down the country's air transportation system and occupy (and vandalize) Government House, seemingly without any serious repercussions. And they will ask how it was that military and later a court was able to overturn an election. And they will ask why Bangkok twice turned a national icon and their hero into a fugitive.
What is clear is that the elite has provided no popular narrative to defend and explain their actions to Thais outside their own tight circle. The elite tells no story that could possibly be palatable to the rural masses. To the contrary, the center tells the periphery that they are too stupid to vote, too hopelessly corrupt to lead, and too backward to learn. It is not a marketable narrative. Such talk cannot hold a country together.
Now the entire weigh of Thai national unity hangs on a few golden threads. And these threads are worn with age.
This jot began as a response to a question from Jotman reader J-P.