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«Robert B. Albritton University of Mississippi Thawilwadee Bureekul King Prajadhipok’s Institute Issued by Asian Barometer Project Office National ...»

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A Comparative Survey of


Working Paper Series: No. 4

Civil Society and the Consolidation of Democracy in


Robert B. Albritton

University of Mississippi

Thawilwadee Bureekul

King Prajadhipok’s Institute

Issued by

Asian Barometer Project Office

National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica

2002 Taipei

Asian Barometer

A Comparative Survey of Democracy, Governance and Development

Working Paper Series The Asian Barometer (ABS) is an applied research program on public opinion on political values, democracy, and governance around the region. The regional network encompasses research teams from twelve East Asian political systems (Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and Indonesia), and five South Asian countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal). Together, this regional survey network covers virtually all major political systems in the region, systems that have experienced different trajectories of regime evolution and are currently at different stages of political transition.

The ABS Working Paper Series is intended to make research result within the ABS network available to the academic community and other interested readers in preliminary form to encourage discussion and suggestions for revision before final publication. Scholars in the ABS network also devote their work to the Series with the hope that a timely dissemination of the findings of their surveys to the general public as well as the policy makers would help illuminate the public discourse on democratic reform and good governance. The topics covered in the Series range from country-specific assessment of values change and democratic development, region-wide comparative analysis of citizen participation, popular orientation toward democracy and evaluation of quality of governance, and discussion of survey methodology and data analysis strategies.

The ABS Working Paper Series supercedes the existing East Asia Barometer Working Paper Series as the network is expanding to cover more countries in East and South Asia. Maintaining the same high standard of research methodology, the new series both incorporates the existing papers in the old series and offers newly written papers with a broader scope and more penetrating analyses.

The ABS Working Paper Series is issued by the Asian Barometer Project Office, which is jointly sponsored by the Department of Political Science of National Taiwan University and the Institute of Political Science of Academia Sinica. At present, papers are issued only in electronic version.

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Civil society is accepted by scholars of democratization as an essential component of democratic consolidation. Such judgments are seldom based upon empirical evidence from developing democracies. This study utilizes data from a national probability sample of Thai citizens to examine the role of civil society in the context of democratic consolidation in Thailand. The evidence suggests that civil society is weak in Thailand and is associated primarily with older, rural constituencies of less than middle-class status. Although civil society participation appears to have an impact on political participation, it does not appear to be associated with support for democracy.

Civil Society and the Consolidation of Democracy in Thailand1

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There is considerable ambiguity in the concept of civil society as it is used in the discipline of political science. Part of this ambiguity arises from its origins in revolutionary movements against non-democratic regimes. The concept becomes more problematic in the context of democratic consolidation, even though Linz and Stepan (2001) suggest that conditions must exist for a Afree and lively civil society@ in order for democratic consolidation to take place. Contrary to Schmitter=s (1997) assertion that civil society contributes to consolidation of democracy, Berman (1997 ) argues that, in an already democratic regime, civil society can be a fertile ground for organizing totalitarian regimes, as in Nazi Germany at the time of the Weimar Republic.

Another ambiguity in the concept comes from its overlap with Asocial capital.@ Putnam (2000) describes participation in organized groups and movements as a form of social capital, and this phenomenon seems remarkably similar to Linz and Stepan=s version of civil society. 1 In many ways, it appears that civil society is a form of social capital, the latter concept including other social assets, such as levels of education and social solidarity.

Some of the major proponents of civil society enhance these ambiguities by suggesting that the relationship between civil society and democracy is one of correlation, not causation. Philippe Schmitter (1997), for example, notes that the Aresurrection of civil society@ occurs after transitions to democracy and is not necessary either to the demise of autocracy or for transition to 1 The authors wish to express appreciation to the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation and the King Prajadhipok’s Institute for funding data gathering in this study.

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development rather than a cause.

One might wonder how appropriate a social movement taken from a revolutionary context might be for the transition to democracy - to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and other characteristics of democratic consolidation that require a great deal more than revolutionary fervor. Linz and Stepan (2001) affirm the value of the styles of civil society in helping to consolidate democracy, but both Schmitter (1997) and Linz and Stepan (2001), indicate that civil society must be characterized by Acivility,@ a far cry from its development under the non-democratic regimes of Eastern Europe and Latin America as an instrument of democratic resistance.

The concept of Acivil society@ faces even more problematic receptions when transported into the Asian context. In analyses of Thailand, for example, civil society is still viewed as an agent of political resistance (Girling, 2002). In Asia, in general, civil society is invested with a Gramscian vision of a constant struggle for political and policy power in any society threatened with abuse of power by the state. James Ockey (2002), Johannes Schmidt (2002), and Kevin Hewison (2002) all point to the mass protests of the 1950s, the 1970s, and the overthrow of the Suchinda government in 1992, as representing civil society at its height in Thailand. Somchai (2002) argues for a continuing politics of confrontation by civil society and the thrust of the essays in a recent volume commenting on contemporary Thai politics indicates that this is essential for Aradical democracy@ (McCargo, 2002). The overall impression left by this literature is that agendas of civil society are somewhat at odds with concepts used in the context of democratic consolidation.

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society. Piker suggests that Thai individualism accounts for the lack of significant development of cooperative associations in rural Thailand (1979). A sense of self-reliance, especially in rural Thai society results in an avoidance of anything but superficial interaction, making Thais wary of group memberships or other associations that contribute to vigorous participation in activities associated with civil society movements (Mulder, 1969). Klausner attributes the generally weak status of rural cooperatives to these traits (1983). Although notable protests occur, implying growing levels of social organization, Unger (1998) characterizes these occurrences as ad hoc. In general, Thais appear to participate only tentatively and are seldom associated with sustained, organized groups.

Most of what does exist are cooperative associations organized by government to which Thai rural people belong as a condition of access to government markets and subsidies.

Similar patterns obtain in Bangkok despite an urban romanticism on the part of Thai intellectuals (and non-Thai scholars) that characterizes civil society organization in the inner city as vibrant. Askew (2002), for example, describes residents of the famous Klong Toey area as responding only to issues of immediate and practical concern. Notable successes, such as the protests by squatters against relocation by the Port Authority, have been transient at best and have not provided a sustained civil society envisioned as a component of growing social capital in a consolidating democracy. In fact, what social organizations exist appear largely dependent on outside-funded NGOs for sustained action characterized by a handful of leaders without substantial commitments of participation from members of the targeted communities.

A helpful contribution for conceptualizing civil society in an Asian context is Somchai=s (2002) distinction between a civil society that improves the balance of power for Aordinary

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transcends the notion of Astate-led civil society@ (Frolic 1997:56), but the partnership between the state and the popular sector, in the Thai perception, still precludes building civil society from below. The concept has evolved into what is now termed Agood governance@ (Prawase Wasi 2002) that, as Somchai points out (2002:134), should be led by elites. The programs advocated by Areformers@ such as Prawase Wasi and Thirayuth Boonmi require leadership from the top down by capable elites, because an over-riding societal goal is social stability. The Areform@ agenda thus preserves the essential structure of elite dominance over common people, in particular the dominance of Bangkok over the 90 percent of the population represented in the changwat (provinces).

Because civil society is based in the attitudes and orientations of Aordinary people,@ theoretical treatments from macro-level perspectives seem somewhat Aairy@ and detached from their fundamental context in individual behavior. Belief in civil society as an unmitigated good ignores warnings that it can also serve as a vehicle for totalitarian movements (Berman, 1997). 2 Its transformation into Agood governance@ provides civil society with an emotional appeal implying that it is a core institution for political reform. What is missing from the discourse is an empirical analysis of civil society as it lies in the behavior and attitudes of citizens in emerging democracies.

This paper explores the configuration of civil society as it exists in Thailand at the beginning of the millennium. Based upon a random sample of Thai respondents from the entire kingdom, it provides summary measures of the levels of civil society in the Thai population. More importantly, it offers an opportunity to test relationships between citizen participation in civil

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participation in political society. Finally, the data offer prospects for developing and analyzing models of sources of support for participation in civil society.

Measuring Civil Society in the Thai Context The data for this study come from a probability sample of eligible voters in the Thai nation during November-December, 2001. 3 Respondents were chosen in a three-stage probability sample based upon clusters of legislative districts, then of voting units (precincts), followed by a systematic sampling of voters across voting units. The sample included 50 of the 400 legislative districts, 100 voting units from across the 50 legislative districts, and 1500 respondents from the 100 voting units. This procedure yielded a population of 54,894. Because the Askip interval@ exceeded 36, a more conservative approach using 36 as the interval yielded 1546 respondents. This sample represents one of the few (if not the only) probability-based samples of the Thai electorate. Here, we utilize the data to indicate levels of civil society in the Thai population and to examine relationships between civil society and political society and their antecedents.

For purposes of the analysis, we define Acivil society@ as the arena of the polity that includes groups, movements and associations, independent of the state and economic units, that act as bridges between the state or political society and the family unit of social organization.

Operationally, we use memberships in social, professional, entrepreneurial organizations, and trade unions (Linz and Stepan, 2001: 96) as evidence of participation in civil society by individuals. The theory holds that, although civil society cannot be defined as a cause of democracy, it at least serves as a breeding ground for participation in the activities of political

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to the health of democratic governance.

This paper presents data from the Thai portion of a multi-national study of democratization and value change in East Asia that includes questions designed to measure the level of involvement in civil society associations, as well as attitudes toward political society that are theoretically related. The larger study, using common survey instruments, offers a basis of comparison of national indicators over a variety of nations. In addition, the data provide a basis for empirically testing hypotheses of causes and effects of civil society, a considerably larger context than the literature to date.

Theories of civil society are silent as to causes of civil society participation in individual behavior. More specifically, they do not suggest whether civil society is a trait associated with rural or urban populations. Because scholars tend to conceive urban society as containing more complex forms of social organization, one would anticipate higher levels of civil society in urban areas. However, urban society also encourages isolation and anonymity in ways that may produce opposite effects. Because cleavages between rural and urban society are so prominent in the Thai context (Laothamatas, 1996; Albritton and Bureekul, 2002), the analysis also examines plausible hypotheses connecting civil society with its locations in rural or urban environments.

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