Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Let Me Tell You A Story

This is tangentially related to what zanda_myrande said in my "don't vote" post.

When I joined the Peace Corps and went to Thailand in 1975, it was a democratic country, a constitutional monarchy similar to the UK. The king had no formal political power, but lots of well-earned respect. There was a Parliament, I can't remember if it was bicameral or just uni-, but it was elected by the people and the PM and cabinet was chosen by the majority party.

In 1976, as I was visiting Bangkok, there was a bloody coup. I missed being where the shooting was by about 10 minutes (I was walking towards Thamassat University, because I wanted to visit the museum there, when the army and gangs of conservative vocational students attacked protesting liberal students).

All newspapers in the country were closed down. All foreign magazines and newspapers which covered the coup were either confiscated or censored. Newsweek and Time were missing pages when they got to our library. Parliament was dissolved, nobody had the right to vote, it turns out, for another 5 years.

But here's where it all gets confusing. The democratic government was a mess. There was lots of corruption, lots of fat cats getting fatter, not a lot getting done because many high ranking ministers just were not qualified for their jobs. The military appointed a new cabinet, drawing from civilian experts in their fields. If I remember correctly, the head of the agricultural university was named ag minister, the chief justice became justice minister, and so on. Whatever the specifics, it seemed to me the military dictatorship did a far better job for the people than parliament had.

Not too surprising, because the military had mostly been educated at West Point, there was very close cooperation between the Thai generals and the American generals all through the Vietnam war, and like the US military, the Thai military are some of the most patriotic people on the planet. They almost immediately set a timetable for a new constitution and new elections. Thailand is in this phase again right now. It's kind of a routine cycle for them.

Having lived in a country with no right to vote, but a truly benevolent dictatorship which did more for the people than the democratically elected government ever did, I have very mixed feelings about the right to vote.


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