Are the movements in Ukraine and Thailand democratic?

I don’t know enough about these cases to say.

Clifford Bob, who knows more than I do, writes with concerns:

I just read your blogpost on Ukraine and Thailand.  I was struck by that juxtaposition today also.  But one thing that bothers me is exactly what the protesters are after.  I haven’t been following either protest too closely, but from what I know about Thailand this is, very broadly, a case of protest aimed at bringing down a democratically elected government.  And that has been a major part of the protest ever since Thaksin won elections in the early 2000s.  The protesters, mostly middle class urbanites, want various changes to the Thai political system, to help ensure that  populists such as Thaksin and his sister, who depend mostly on the votes of poor rural people, can’t win elections or at least dominate politics–even if they won relatively clean democratic elections.

And the protests that helped lead to the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are also similar.  Broadly, it seems that relatively well-resourced and “liberal” middle classes are taking to the streets to unseat democratically elected, sometimes “populist” governments.  It’s a very interesting phenomenon, and challenges a number of ideas that are commonplace among scholars of social movements and democracy.  I haven’t seen much about it, but one exception is Joshua Kurlantzick, Democracy in Retreat.  I’m also reminded of the US political system historically and today, with all its limits on democracy and fear of populism.

The New York Times reports that while Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has called for new elections, she’s refused to step down in advance of those elections.  The opposition is apparently wary of new elections that they would lose, and wants instead a council of wise people to rule the country.  Shinawatra’s achievements include high prices for rice farmers and universal health care.

Similar policies (substitute corn for rice) spurred a conservative populist (but certainly not majority) backlash in other countries you know about.

Protest movements aren’t always pushing for democracy.  The Times reports worries about the undermining of democratic institutions.  This is always a charge made against social movements, from below or not; sometimes, however, it’s appropriate.

Do any readers know more about this story?

(Add Ukraine and Egypt if you want.)

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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2 Responses to Are the movements in Ukraine and Thailand democratic?

  1. Dana M. Moss says:

    I just wrote about this for Mobilizing Ideas, overlapping with Clifford Bob’s point: http://mobilizingideas.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/disruption-and-dysfunction/

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