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Democracy is hard
Posted by: mcq on Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hungary's socialist government is finding that out the hard way right now.

Police and protesters are clashing in Budapest over accusations that the governing coalition lied to win the April elections. While all this is "alleged", it's not really. Apparently Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcasany was caught on tape admitting his government had "lied morning, evening and night" about the economy, painting a much rosier picture than they knew to be reality.

Crowds are demanding his resignation but he's doing the stiff upper lip thing, ignoring them and vowing to stay and do "my job."

I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't pining for the good old days when he could have ordered the tanks to roll and be done with it all in a couple of days - with the malcontents evenually cooling their heels in solitary. Democracy puts a crimp in that sort of fun.


Speaking of tanks, then there's Thailand.

Wait till the PM goes to NY and stage a military coup. Not a bad plan if you're in the coup business. What it means, in the long-run, is anyone's guess, but in the short run it means Thailand has again chosen means other than democratic to change government.

This isn't the first time they've done this, or attempted it. They have a long and inglorious history. In October of 1976, a coup installed a militarily guided right-wing government.

The next October, bang, a bloodless military coup to replace the military coup of the previous October.

4 years later in April of 1981, another attempted coup, which ended in failure. The military tried again in September of 1989. Another failure. Finally in February of 1991, a general managed to topple the government in another bloodless coup. A little over a year later, that general (who has a name a mile long and sounds like Grey Poupon) is forced out and the King intervenes to bring peace.

Ironically, the parliament then voted to reduce the power of the military at that time, for all the good it did for them.

The US reaction? Well according to the State Department, we're a little 'uneasy' about the military taking over things there and we hope that the differences can be resolved through "democratic principles".

Australia, on the other hand (and I'm becoming a huge fan of that country's no-nonsense style) didn't play the nice-nice game. The Ausies, in the form of Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, said they were concerned to see democracy "destroyed".

The General who took control this time (and who also has a name a mile long, which seems to be some sort of prerequisite for being a Thai general) has said he has no intention of retaining power.

I bet all the generals say that.

We'll see, won't we?
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Previous Comments to this Post 

This post adds some interesting background -there’s been an active Muslim, separatist insurgency in Thailand for several years now.
As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. “Thaksin’s idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he’s right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years,” one Thai expert told me.

....For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin’s spell. This summer, the prime minister’s popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin’s government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister’s allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin’s style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister’s own party members have begun to speak out against him.
Obviously, military intervention was the wrong solution here (that’s my instinct, anyway). But there’s a real empirical problem here - insurgencies/terrorists encourage autocratic governments, and autocratic governments encourage insurgencies. It’s a classic vicious circle.

My personal opinion is, in the battles between Islamists and dictators, you support whichever one is willing to put in place a more democratic system. Period.

Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
Yeah I heard about the Thailand coup yesterday.

I suspect M. Bison.
Written By: ChrisB
URL: http://
My personal opinion is, in the battles between Islamists and dictators, you support whichever one is willing to put in place a more democratic system. Period.
While that sounds good in theory, I’m not sure how you determine the best choice, given the option of ’dictator and Islamist’, in reality (and promises of democracy don’t count given the track record of each).

They seem like pretty much the same thing. So your fall back is position is what?
Written By: McQ
Maybe this sort of coup business is what got Chavez so stunk up about Bush.
Written By: unaha-closp
Well, as bad as this is, I think calling this place a "democracy" is pushing the definition a bit.

He is the richest guy in the country, and did some back dealing in selling of his family’s business (the country’s cellphone carrier). This created a backlash, so he dissolved parliament to hold new elections. He threw around a bunch of money to poor towns and whatnot to essentially buy his way back into office. Plus a lot more stuff like this.

So while they had democratic structures, I wouldn’t say it was really a functioning democracy.

Written By: whatever
URL: http://
My personal opinion is, in the battles between Islamists and dictators, you support whichever one is willing to put in place a more democratic system. Period.
Sorry, this sounds remarkably like the phrase "he may be a petty tinpot dictator, but he’s OUR petty tinpot dictator!"

We used to support guys who ’weren’t communist’ and my my my, I’m sure you’d be happy to b*tch about the results of that in places like Iran and Panama and South Vietnam.

Here’s a clue, democracy isn’t for everybody, stop talking like democracy is some magic recipe for peace and happiness.
Written By: looker
URL: http://
Interestingly enough the General leading the coup is a Muslim.
Sondhi, who is known to be close to Thailand’s revered constitutional monarch, will serve as acting prime minister, army spokesman Col. Akarat Chitroj said. Sondhi, well-regarded within the military, is a Muslim in this Buddhist-dominated nation.
Maybe he will do a better job in dealing with the insurgency.

Written By: capt joe
URL: http://
I suspect M. Bison.
Now that’s funny.
Written By: Jordan
URL: http://
So your fall back is position is what?

In short, leveraging the (usually) weaker military position of the opposition, that maybe genuinely can’t get in power without us, to negotiate a managed transition that we are able to influence, most likely leaving the resulting regime more democratic than before, especially if mass violence does not occur (this may be the key point, from an analytic standpoint).

A good example is Iran. The shah was doomed, but (read "All Fall Down" to learn about this) we refused to talk to what was then a very diverse opposition until the very end. We blindly backed the dictator and held our breath, and we got Iran.

And yet Iran is, as anyone paying attention in the Khatami era could tell, still more democratic (not democratic, just more democratic) than Syria, Egypt, ex-Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

The Iranian regime could have been even more democratic, and significantly less radical if Americans had been seen as helping end the shah’s regime, rather then riding the sinking ship to the bottom.

We should be leaning on Thailand’s military to give up and fast. Economics, loss of military aid, and ASEAN should be our tools.

Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
So while they had democratic structures, I wouldn’t say it was really a functioning democracy.
Actually, they may be getting it exactly right. Thailand’s high court ruled the April election invalid and ordered a new poll. I haven’t found a good timeline of what’s transpired since then, but it seems that order has not been upheld by the government that ostensibly would lose power. The people flip out (as good Democratic citizens should under such circumstances), and the military steps in to enforce the rule of law against...wait for it...the rogue government. Out goes the wannabe dictator and they return the governance question to the people.

Assuming that they actually do that. Which I suppose they might not.

And then there’s Pakistan, the product of everyone’s favorite recent military coup.

Yup, democracy is hard.
Written By: Pablo
URL: http://
People need to learn that they have to live with their election choices. People power is exhilarating until its used every single electoral cycle like the Philippines.

Tip: look to Taiwan for possible political coup or military coup. Not likely, but more probable than before.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Re Thailand - What I’m getting from friends with relatives in-country

the bulk of the population is supporing the military.
The people are feeding and watering the troops voluntarily in support
(at checkpoints, etc).
The king is in favor of it.
The military has ’apologized for the inconvenience’
the population is miffed at the PM for selling the majority share of
the company to the Japanese
The coup has been in the works since much earlier this year.
Written By: looker
URL: http://

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