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(May 5, 2023) No exit from our democratic future

As Thailand's much-anticipated poll on May 14 heads into its homestretch, several clear trends and patterns are emerging to suggest that democratisation is making an inexorable comeback in this country, with positive implications for Southeast Asia and beyond. The immediate road ahead in Thai politics will likely still be bumpy, potentially marked by more judicial interventions and electoral manipulation, or even another military takeover, to thwart the people's choices at the poll. But eventually, pro-democracy forces backed by the Thai people's demand for change will come back time and again until there is a rebalanced, representative and reworked constitutional order in place.

It's hard to believe that in the late 1990s Thailand was internationally extolled as the leading light of democratisation in the developing world, when it transitioned from military-authoritarianism towards what looked like a democratic consolidation. But then it all became topsy-turvy. The electoral rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and his political party machine from 2001 ironically undermined democratic values and hallmarks, from checks and balances and basic freedoms to the transparency and accountability of the government. The military coups in 2006 and 2014, along with the repeated judicial dissolutions of Thaksin's political parties and elected politicians, including his sister Yingluck Shinawatra, shaped political outcomes and reversed and weakened democratic institutions immeasurably.