Buddhist Ethics and Thailand's Politics
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Thailand, officially referred to as the Kingdom of Thailand, is a Southeast Asian country with population of around sixty six million people. A larger percentage of the population in Thailand is of the Tai ethnicity. Thailand has a rich culture, history, religion, and politics. In terms of administration, Thailand has a monarch constitution. A huge section of the population, around 98% of the people in Thailand, follow Buddhism. Thailand has never been colonized. Therefore, the country’s administrative structures reflect the Thai’s old organization. It explains Thailand’s journey to democracy and established political leadership. It should be noted that religion does not influence Thai politics and democratic challenges that the country has been facing over the years.
The Kingdom of Thailand has had a number of political coups, including their own military forces and political invasions from Japanese forces after the Second World War and the western forces when the country decided to address the United States of America for international legitimacy and economic support. The first coup d’?tat in Thailand took place in Bangkok in 1932. In the article “Why Democracy Struggles,” Nicholas Farrelly explains the different rankings in the national government. Initially, there was the monarchy as the form of governance, and after the coups, military power would take over disregarding the presence of the monarch. Farrelly explains that the reluctant and inconsistent redemocratisation was brought about by the army being backed off despite being faced by Pro-Thaksin uprisings. Redemocratisation automatically created an environment, in which the coups were likely to occur. However, the uprisings from the citizens helped the active leadership withstand the shortcoming brought about by the coup. “The government could have faltered, but with strong and public support from the military and monarchy, there was never any serious doubt that it would survive the storm of discontent. However, this marriage between the military and the monarch undermines democracy in Thailand ” (Farrely, 2013, p. 286).
According to Farrely (2013), the Thai form of politics is quite complex and is closely intertwined with religion and culture. The monarch system in Thailand is excluded from the people. Such scenario always allows political leaders to use the military to threaten or suppress popular demands. Military interventions or threats of military intervention are quite common in Thai politics. In addition, Farrely (2013) explains that the mutual interests and close intimacy between the royal and military families has always been an impediment to the development of democracy in Thailand. The monarch has perfected the art of using the military to confront any anti-monarchy sentiments or opinions that have the potential to make the military disregard any reasonable reason to protect the royals.
Another reason that explains why democracy fails in Thailand is the lack of respect in established institutions. Similarly to other nations, Thai people believe in strong personalities rather than strong institutions. The people of Thailand have little or no believe in their established institutions. Such scenario has been demonstrated in many ways. For instance, the monarch uses military instruments to eliminate popularly elected governments that appear to be not fit. On the other hand, the opposition, especially the redshirts political wing, occasionally stages demonstrations with the aim of toppling popularly elected governments.
Moreover, there is the issue of who controls the economy, Thailand’s economic elites are closely linked to the military and the monarchy. Those who organize and carry out coups often accumulate resources and quickly become rich. Therefore, coups in Thailand come with economic advancement. It makes it a lucrative venture, with which any military personnel will want to be associated. Also, Thailand relies heavily on international support mainly in terms of political support and security assistance. Such support comes mainly from the United States. Farrely (2013) states that Thailand’s continues corporation with countries such as the US. The Cobra Gold military activities appear to be a demonstration of over-reliance of the Kingdom of Thailand on international support.
‘Regular exchanges of military personnel, the most public of which occur under the annual banner of the Cobra Gold military exercises, mean that Thai military leaders are very familiar with their Western counterparts. Even though these engagements look like normal international military exercises, in Thailand, evidence has shown that they are not just ordinary engagements. (Farrely, 2013, p. 284)
According to Terwiel (2011), military corporation between the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand has remained strong, whereas the military coups represent a different culture in Thailand. The country still needs democratic institutions despite those short-lived democratic institutions left from previous coups.
Buddhism is a religion that combines a number of different traditions and the practices based on the teachings of Buddha. It is practiced in different regions in the world, but it is primarily practiced in Asia mainly in areas such as India, East Asia, and Southern Asia. Buddhism is an environment-friendly religion. Its adherents are considerably kind to animals and their wellbeing since they believe that animals are a form, in which humans can be reborn after death. Buddhists are naturally animal activists who believe that animals, similarly to human beings, deserve good treatment. As any other religion, Buddhism has its ethics. The classification of such ethics is based on the comparison of the Buddhism ethical system and the western ethics. Buddhist ethics is the governing instruction used to lead the religious practices. They fall in three different categories.
The first category of Buddhist ethics is descriptive ethics. It provides the moral perspective norms and the value of the community. Also, it establishes the rules to govern a specific situation. The second category is normative ethics. Such ethics explains general values and principles governing how the Buddhists should lead their lives. They are applicable to crucial issues such as murder, abortion etc. Such ethics tries to shape a person’s character to enable him/her lead a good life. The last set of ethics in Buddhism is Meta ethics. Meta ethics provides a conceptual clarification by analyzing the meaning of moral terms and governing the logical relations in moral arguments.
In addition, Buddhism has theories of ethics, which include Deontology, Utilitarianism, and Virtue ethics (Mitchell & Jacoby, 2013). Deontology systems insist on the rules and the principles that govern the obligations that one has to fulfill as an individual. Virtue ethics offers some sort of a leeway between the Deontology and Unitarianism in a way that it justifies the past and the future. All these theories of ethics offer a variety of ways to shape good character of an individual and make them the role models in the community. Keown (2005) stated,
The behavior of these role models provides a template on which to shape our own conduct: their positive qualities reveal the virtues we should emulate, and the actions they systematically avoid become codified in the form of precepts that serve to guide their followers. (p. 28)
The Buddhist Wheel of life shows how the religion values the life human and animals, this is because they are ranked highly and the ethics that govern the religion are naturally environment activisists. The absence of ethics in Buddhism is an impractical theory since the people practicing the religion are in all ways restricted to be the individuals of an upright character being kind to life (Keown, 2005). I personally believe that Buddhists are peaceful and life-loving people who are kind to animals. The struggling democracy of the Thai people from the military coups comes as a result of the uncertainty in the leadership and the low level of resistance from the democratize institutions in the country. the Buddhists’ way of life does not contribute in any way to the coup d’?tat and the democracy that is struggling to be stable.
The political history of the Kingdom of Thailand reflects a long struggle of the Thai people. The leadership in Thailand has been shifting from one power to the other, that is, the monarchy and the military forces. The governing of the country has been marked by the assassinations of leaders, fall of monarchies, and the coups by the military power. The democratic institutions have also been pulled back in terms of the level of resistance applied to eliminate the military coups. Economic elites have the potential to create an environment, in which coups can occur and overthrow popularly elected governments. The Kingdom of Thailand has also been quite dependent on international support in terms of trade and security, especially in the fight against international terrorism and training its security personnel. The existence of a religion such as Buddhism shows no relation to the struggle of Thailand for democracy practice and its own independence.