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16 - Two Cheers for Rally Politics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Duncan McCargo
Affiliation:
University of Leeds
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Summary

Mass rallies in the capital city have been a regular feature of Thai politics. They date backing to the 1950s but have been most prominent since the 1970s: the two Octobers of 1973 and 1976, the constitutional amendment crisis of 1983, the rallies against General Suchinda Kraprayun of May 1992, the near-annual farmers’ protests of the 1990s, the protests of 2005, 2006 and 2009 against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and most recently the Red Shirt rallies of 2009 and 2010. How are we to understand these rallies in a comparative and historical context? The temptation has been to view Bangkok's big rallies as “people power” movements opposing military rule, and linked to processes of liberalization or even democratization. In other words, the primary comparison is with dramatic ousters of authoritarian regimes elsewhere. The aim of this chapter is to problematize idealized views of rally politics, and to suggest that the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) protests of 2010 were more the result of elite mobilization than a spontaneous uprising of popular feeling.

The turbulent events of March–May 2010 bring me back full circle, to the two modes of politics that I discussed in my early work on Chamlong Srimuang. Following the arguments of Bruce Graham, I have suggested that national politics often derives its momentum from one of two sources: party drive, or rally drive. Party drive is the standard operating procedure of most European democracies: representative parties are formed to articulate the demands of interest groups, to contest elections, and operate within parliamentary systems. Rally drive is essentially extraparliamentary in nature, and it is linked to strong leadership. As Graham noted, “the rally drive is produced by the diffuse anxieties of groups and individuals who look to prominent personalities to accept a form of moral responsibility for the welfare of the community as a whole.”

Graham argued that the rally mode was almost a default mode for Indian and French politics, and a recurrent theme of American politics (in presidential campaigns, for example). He was keen to reject any suggestion that the rally drive was inferior to the party drive, arguing after Nehru that rally politics helped preserve a dynamic and vital connection between the elite and the masses. He cited approvingly De Gaulle's declaration in 1942: “in order to seize victory and to rediscover her greatness, France must form a rally”.

Type
Chapter
Information
Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand
, pp. 190 - 198
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2012

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