The Future Of Thailand: Beyond the Generic Governance Model


Protests are raging across Bangkok — yellow shirts against the pro-Taksin, pro-establishment red shirts. It started because of an amnesty bill, but after that was cancelled, the protests proceeded on anyway; the yellow shirts have been urging the Takshin government to step down altogether.

On Sunday, the Bangkok Post reported around 400,000 protesters — which is likely to be a conservative, perhaps a pro-Takshin estimate — and protestors have occupied several key ministries peacefully. That includes the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and another nine were targeted today: Commerce, Culture, Energy, Industry, Labour, Natural Resources and Environment, Public Health, Social Development and Human Security, and Science and Technology.

Brazenly, the protesters have threatened to cut water and electricity supplies. It’s also notable that the occupation of the ministries has been in defiance of the Internal Security Act (ISA) — a form of emergency powers law.

However, what’s striking admidst the chaos, is the level of optimism. From a tourist’s perspective, the protests looks sweet and dandy, with no significant signs of violence. The few times I ventured out to have a closer look, what struck me was the amount of delicious food being sold, the happy looks on people’s faces, and the optimism brewing in the crowd. Maybe that’s just Thailand; I’m not sure.

But the question remains, what comes next? It’s easy enough to overthrow a government, and the Thais have a history of doing so. The challenge generally lies in creating a new one, and keeping it in place.

The process puzzles me every time: a popular leader, Yingluck Shinawatra, who’s now clearly out of luck, won in a landslide election. And now she is set to be replaced in an uprising, by another popular group.

However, the protest leader, Suthep Thaugsuban, has not presented any clear plan for a post-Takshin future. Some are even arguing to go back to a more hardline monarchist government, while others want to have greater regional democracy or federalism.

It’s all charmingly fluffy and fuzzy in character, at least to the observer. What puzzles me is the following: what’s the point of a nation state government to start with? If they can’t agree with each other, then why should they?

When trying to impose a generic governance model on any country that isn’t very small and perfectly homogeneous, the situation tends to go sour pretty quickly — unless the government is so small or inefficient that it leaves enough places for people to live out their particular culture without constraints. Rather than a “one-size-fits-all” model of governance, though, why can’t people have their own, individual choice of government supplier?

Anyone should be able to chose his or her jurisdiction of choice, their government service provider of choice, whether it’s health care, education, security, etc. Then nobody would have to fight over the control of a specific geographic area — in this case, Thailand. There’s nothing the government provides that the free market can’t provide.

No more paralyzing protests; no more elections; no more fights. Does it sound utopian? Well, having a governance model that is supposed to fit every person in a specific geographical area, just because they happen to be there, sounds like utopian, wishful thinking to me.

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