On a hot spring afternoon in 1999 at the investigative reporting section of the Bangkok Post, one of Thailand’s two English-language dailies, the section’s editor marked off a long list of stories on a white board. The section had plenty of targets in its sights---police corruption, Thailand’s drug trade and many other subjects.
The Post’s lively reporting was but one sign of Thailand’s freedom at the time. The country held regular free elections, and had just passed a reformist constitution. The charter guaranteed many new rights and freedoms. And Thailand was not alone; overall, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Southeast Asia was considered one of the most promising areas of the world for democracy. By the middle of the 2000s, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore, authoritarian states during the Cold War, all were ranked as “free” or “partly free” by the US-based, independent monitoring organization Freedom House.
Today, Southeast Asia---and Thailand particularly---looks far different. Overall, only Indonesia and the Philippines are still ranked as “partly free” by Freedom House, in its latest annual analysis of freedom in the world. Thailand has regressed into a decade of political turmoil that has resulted in elected governments abusing their power and two military coups, the latest in May 2014. A year on from that coup, Thailand’s regression---and dismal hope for the future---exemplifies many of the challenges that democracy faces throughout the world.
To read more about why Thai democracy is failing and what this failure means for other developing nations, go to my new article in The National.