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Public opinion and political power in Thailand

     The 2006 military coup that felled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra was disillusioning to those who believed that consolidated democracy had brought an end at last to Thailand’s chronic political instability. Citing the pretext of “corruption”, the military disregarded the government’s electoral mandate and took control, thereby squandering the progress achieved through fifteen years of true democracy. Just five months before the coup, polling data indicated high levels of support not only for the government itself, but also for the democratic model. The closer examination of the polling data presented in this paper reveals, however, that not all segments of Thai society supported democracy with equal fervor. Specifically, Bangkok residents favored nondemocratic intervention if faced with a challenge to their traditional leadership role in Thai politics. The contrasting attitudes of Bangkok and non-Bangkok residents with respect to democracy lend further support to the theory that Thailand is a “tale of two democracies”: the analysis presented here demonstrates a fundamental cleavage between urban Bangkok and the country’s reral areas.

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