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Thai democracy on the move
Bangkok

Leena Rikkilä Tamang, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International IDEA is with Associate Professor Dr Jade Donovanik, KPI. Image credit: International IDEA

Leena Rikkilä Tamang, Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, International IDEA is with Associate Professor Dr Jade Donovanik, KPI. Image credit: International IDEA.

International IDEA Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific presented results of the Global State of Democracy data at the 20th Annual Congress at the King Prajaripok Institute (KPI) in Bangkok.

Is democracy really in decline? What are the global trends in democracy? How do democratic trends compare across regions and countries?  How has Thai democracy performed over time? 

These were some of the questions addressed by Leena Rikkilä Tamang, regional director for Asia and the Pacific in her presentation as part of International Panel of the King Prajaripok Institute (KPI) 20th Annual Congress titled "Thai Democracy on the Move".  As explained by the KPI Secretary General Dr Woothisarn Tanchai, we chose this topic as Thailand is stepping into yet another crucial period of democracy transition through the National Reform strategy and through Thailand 4.0 concept, and with new election rules under the 2017 Constitution.

Ms Tamang presented statistical trends regarding the state of democracy both globally and in Thailand in particular, as observed by the latest data in the Global State of Democracy Indices. The full Global State of Democracy Report is to be published in November 2019.

Global Trends

The global findings, as per data looking at the period between 2012-2017 demonstrate that the number of countries experiencing democratic decline is now greater than the number experiencing democratic gains, breaking a trend that stretches back to 1980. Moreover, between 2014 and 2017, for the first time since 1975, there were two or more consecutive years in which more countries declined than improved in any aspect of democracy.

Secondly, regions with a concentration of so-called established or high-performing democracies (e.g. in North America, Europe, and more recently in Latin America and the Caribbean) have experienced democratic declines in the last five years. This democratic decline in established democracies has been gradual. The Global State of Democracy  refers to this as ‘modern democratic backsliding’, which is characterized by democratically elected parties or leaders using legal means to weaken democracy from within. This democratic decline is not necessarily characterized by a deterioration in the conduct of elections, but more often by a worsening situation regarding respect for civil liberties, restrictions on civil society or the media.

(more details from Global State of Democracy in Focus: https://www.idea.int/publications/catalogue/global-state-democracy-key-findings-and-new-data?lang=en)

While all this is a cause for concern, it is important to note that majority of countries (around 140) have seen no significant changes in their democratic performance in either direction since 2012.

Thailand

So how is Thailand measuring over time and what does our data tells us?

Gains

Thailand has made significant gains on Basic Welfare since 1975. It scores above not only the South East Asia sub-region, but above the Asia and the Pacific region and even the World average. Basic welfare measures indicators such as infant mortality rate, life expectancy, nutrition, literacy, schooling, access to health and education. This aspect is one of the dimensions where International IDEA’s definition of democracy is broader than others, which usually do not include basic welfare as a dimension of democracy.

Thailand has also had a continuous growth on Social Rights and Equality, somewhat declining in 2012-2013 but not significantly. It started to see gains again in 2016 and scores at the same level that South East Asia and Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, even though Thailand had some declines in Inclusive Suffrage since 1975, it has been quite stable on this aspect since 1995.

The subattribute on gender equality measures power distributed by gender, women’s participation in civil society women in parliament and in ministerial level positions. When it comes to Gender Equality, Thailand has had a continuous growth since 1975. Up until 2017, Thailand scores above the subregion.

Challenges

Thailand has had several significant declines in the Representative Government attribute since 1975. The last decline we can see started in 2012, continuing until 2017. Interestingly, the decline of 2012 was not as deep as in 1993 or 1977 when previous dips occurred.

Thailand has seen declines in Clean Elections through time since 1975.  And now, Thailand is scoring below South East Asia, Asia and the Pacific and the World average.

The steepest decline that Thailand has seen in the Free Political Parties subattribute started in 2012, declined the most between 2013 and 2014, continuing until 2017, scoring below Asia and the Pacific, South East Asia and the World average.

The only sub attribute Thailand scores zero in is Elected Government. We can see that Thailand has had several steep declines since 1975 but has also made significant recoveries. General elections are anticipated to take place on 24th February 2019 and related legislation is almost finalized. As per the new constitution (2018), there are several changes to the electoral system to be applied in next elections. These changes include move to a modified Multi Member Proportionate system with one ballot, and an appointed Senate. Post electoral review will tell how the new system worked.

When it comes to Fundamental Rights, we can see that Thailand was stable on a slightly increasing trend, with the gains and declines not significant until 2012 - 2013, when it declined sharply. Data shows similar patterns regarding civil liberties, media integrity, access to justice and freedom of expression.

As for Freedom of Movement, Thailand has scored above the AP region, South East Asia subregion and the World. The decline it started to see in 2013, was significant, but it still scores higher than AP and South East Asia.

When it comes to Civil Society Participation, Thailand, for most of the period analyzed, has scored above AP, South East Asia and even the World. Starting in 2012 until 2014, we see a steep decline.

Conclusions

In her concluding remarks, Ms Tamang noted that globally, the current democratic landscape is facing an increasing number of challenges. Since 2014, more countries have seen democratic declines than advances.

However, if a long-term historical perspective is adopted, significant democratic gains have been achieved over the past 42 years, leading to the expansion of democracy into regions that previously had little experience of democratic forms of government, such as Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Middle East and Iran. Thus, democratically, the world today is faring better than it did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nonetheless, current challenges must be taken seriously and addressed to ensure that the current declines do not take hold and gain further ground. 

She also marked that democracy building can be challenging and does not necessarily represent a linear path. Democratization is a process, at times fragile and vulnerable to standstills, delays, setbacks and backsliding.

Democratic ideals are easier to endorse in principle than to realize in practice: There is no such thing as a perfect democracy. Democracy is not an all or-nothing affair, but rather a shifting continuum.

 

King Prajaripok Institute (KPI) organized 20th Annual Congress on 8-10th November 2018 in Bangkok Thailand was attended by approximately 1000 delegates representing government officials, Members of National Assembly, civil society, private sector, diplomats and academia from Thailand, Asia, Europe and North America. International IDEA has partnered with KPI in translating some of International IDEA publications into Thai language.

 

About the Author

Head of Democracy Assessment and Political Analysis
Annika Silva-Leander

Annika Silva-Leander's heads the Democracy Assessment and Political Analysis (DAPA) unit, which produces International IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Report.