by Johnna Sundberg
We've seen threats to the right to vote here in Wisconsin and in other states, which many consider attacks on the very notion of representative democracy.
It is critical for our nation to remain a tireless champion for human rights and democracy -- whether the threat is here, or abroad.
For instance, in Thailand, a military junta ousted the legally elected government in May with the backing of urban elites and business oligarchs. Now the junta has planned elections for October 2015, but there is a real question if the winners of these elections will assume meaningful office.
The general in charge, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has stated that elections are among the "issues" Thailand needs to solve. He has called the freely elected governments of the past a "parliamentary dictatorship" and questioned whether Thailand is "ready" to live in a democratic world.
Experts suggest that what the general is really hinting at is a future in Thailand where government leaders are chosen more by appointments than elections.
Of course, there is a reason that Thailand's elites are trying to diminish the importance of elections. That reason is because they cannot win.
Since the early 2000s, Thailand's wealthy business leaders and urban elites have repeatedly seen their preferred candidates defeated in popular elections. Time and again, their side has been trounced by parties that have the support of Thailand's growing rural working class.
Rather than reaching out to these rural voters, as a political party might do in the United States, Thailand's military rulers demonstrate they are seeking instead to rewrite the rules of the game, again. In 2007, the military took control away from Thailand's populist prime minister and rewrote the constitution to weaken the power of his party. It didn't work, so now the military is trying once more. Just this month the country approved an interim constitution that gives the military more power.
Of course, the Thai people should be allowed to choose the destiny and shape of their government without outside interference. But given the statements made by military rulers, it is time that the international community voices its objections to any reforms that will silence the voices of Thailand's voters.
Immediately following the coup in May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that "the path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people." The European Union similarly called for a "clear timetable" for elections.
While these statements were helpful, the Thai military's actions suggest the West may be putting the cart before the horse. After all, what good are elections if the results do not mean anything?
Thailand is a strong and important ally to many in the West and an important beacon of democracy in Southeast Asia. As history shows, the only way for the country to continue to prosper is through a government in which all citizens are allowed to participate and choose their leaders. By rewriting the constitution for the second time in 10 years, it appears the military and its allies are prepared to permanently rig the Thai political system.
Elections are important, but only if they mean something, too -- whether in Wisconsin, or halfway around the world.
Johnna Sundberg is a UW-Madison senior majoring in political science and economics with a focus on international affairs, and an intern at One Wisconsin Now.