Thailand vs. Egypt: reflections on the concept of electoral dictatorship
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Thailand and Egypt have seen some striking parallels in the past few years, culminating in military overthrows of elected governments. This paper examines middle class thinking behind opposition to the governments, and subsequent support for the military takeovers. Both Thailand’s Pheu Thai and the Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood won elections based on some real support. However, once elected, they abused power, pursued their own narrow agendas, and seemed to be dismantling checks, balances, and liberties of truly democratic systems. The middle class opposition viewed this as ‘electoral authoritarianism’ or ‘parliamentary dictatorship’. Pheu Thai and Muslim Brotherhood supporters frequently pointed to their election wins to justify simply doing what they wanted without regard for other views, for law, courts, or constitutions. Urban middle class views are more likely to correspond with those of Yale law professor Robert Post: “It is a grave mistake to confuse democracy with particular decision-making procedures and to fail to identify the core values that democracy as a form of government seeks to instantiate” (Post 2005, p. 25). The middle classes became disillusioned with electoral ‘democracy’ and shifted hopes to institutions that were supposed to provide checks on government authority, notably the courts. Pheu Thai and the Muslim Brotherhood then tried to control and/or sideline the courts and other independent agencies. In both Thailand and Egypt, the urban middle classes came out in massive street protests, polarization crystalized, and the situation rapidly degenerated. When the military stepped in, there was widespread middle class support for the moves, which is unlikely to dissipate quickly.