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5 - Democratization Interrupted: The Parallel State and the Demise of Democracy in Thailand

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2020

Aurel Croissant
Affiliation:
Universität Heidelberg
Olli Hellmann
Affiliation:
University of Waikato, New Zealand
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Summary

What is the relationship between well-developed stateness and democracy that continuously collapses or fails to consolidate? This chapter examines this question by scrutinizing the case of Thailand. It argues that a historically entrenched alliance of authoritarian actors, having long guided state-building efforts, guaranteed a high level of state capacity across the country. After 1980, these authoritarian actors asserted themselves behind the guise of a monarch-led ‘parallel state’, which dominated Thailand indirectly and was unwilling to surrender power to democratic actors. When these authoritarian actors felt that their interests were becoming threatened by elected governments, they plotted their overthrow, resulting in a vicious cycle of coups, which prevented high-quality democracy from ever developing. Following democratization in 1992, state capacity remained relatively high compared to other ‘new democracies’ in Southeast Asia. Such a high level of state capacity amidst continuing distrust of elected governments by the monarch-led ‘parallel state’ resulted in the collapse of democracy in 2006 and again in 2014. The case of Thailand shows us that a principal challenge to young democracies is how authoritarian predecessors, with enormous sway over stateness and state capacity, can continue exerting influence ‘from above’, hindering elected governments’ effective power to govern.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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