Just last week, an editorial in The Boston Globe discussed “the
fall of a new kind of autocrat – the oligarch who buys power and
wields it as the CEO of an entire country.” The paper drew the lesson
that “there is a crucial distinction between corporate culture and
democratic culture.”

But they weren’t talking about Silvio Berlusconi, but about Thaksin
Shinawatra, Thailand’s billionaire prime minister, who resigned last
week following elections that showed a serious lack of support, despite
the fact that they were boycotted by the opposition. It is thought that
intervention from Thailand’s highly-respected king was crucial in
convincing Thaksin to stand aside, although the Thai opposition, which
has held huge demonstrations against Thaksin over the last couple of
months, is still unsure about how permanent his departure will be.

As the BBC reported
last week, “This is an unprecedented time in Thai politics, where
little is clear and the outlook seems to change on an almost daily
basis.” But there is no doubt that the slide towards authoritarianism
that seemed to be happening under Thaksin has been halted for now. In
the words of analyst Chris Baker, “this has been a great learning
process for Thai politics”.

Berlusconi held power in a more solid democracy, but there were enough
similarities between his style and Thaksin’s to cause discomfort. As it
happened, he survived his fellow tycoon-politician by only a few days.

Italians may congratulate themselves that they disposed of Berlusconi
without demonstrations or constitutional crisis, but one wonders
whether the contrast is entirely to their credit. If (most improbably)
Berlusconi were to refuse to go quietly, would they really care enough
to take to the streets to force him out?

Peter Fray

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