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Turkey and Thailand-Unlikely Twins

Turkey and Thailand-Unlikely Twins

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Published by: Noname on Oct 29, 2012
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Access Provided by University of Queensland at 10/29/12 6:49AM GMT
Turkey and Thailand:unlikely Twins
Duncan McCargo and Ayºe Zarakol
 Duncan McCargo
is professor of Southeast Asian politics at the Uni-versity of Leeds. His
Tearing Apart the Land: Islam and Legitimacy inSouthern Thailand
(2008) won the inaugural 2009 Bernard Schwartz Book Prize from the Asia Society.
 Ayºe Zarako
is assistant professorof politics at Washington and Lee University and the author of 
After Defeat: How the East Learned to Live with the West
n the middle of 2011, both Turkey and Thailand held national elec-tions.
While Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdo¢gan claimed his thirdpopular mandate, his self-exiled Thai
Thaksin Shinawa-tra—whose parties have now won five general elections since 2001— saw his younger sister and stand-in Yingluck Shinawatra assume thepremiership. Virtually no observers, however, noticed the synchronicityof two politicians with similar governance styles, party organizations,and societal bases besting military-bureaucratic establishments on thetwo flanks of Asia.At first glance, the two countries appear strikingly different. Tur-key straddles Europe and the Middle East; it is a Muslim-majoritycountry that has been a staunchly secular republic since 1923; and itis now drawing attention for the transformative domestic and foreignpolicies of Erdo¢gan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), whichis often characterized as Islamist. Thailand, by contrast, is locatedin Southeast Asia, is predominantly Buddhist, and is above all elsea monarchy. Judging by those descriptions, the simultaneous rise of Erdo¢gan in Turkey and Thaksin in Thailand looks like sheer coinci-dence. In reality, however, it is anything but. Laying side-by-side thestories of Turkish and Thai democratization (including the obstaclesthat had to be overcome in each case) reveals numerous parallels. Acomparison between these two countries also offers insights that aremore generally applicable to our understanding of democratizationoutside the West. 
 Journal of Democracy Volume 23, Number 3 July 2012© 2012 National Endowment for Democracy and The Johns Hopkins University Press
 Journal of Democracy
The similarity between the political trajectories of Turkey and Thai-land goes back to the end of the nineteenth century, when they were bothincorporated into European-led international society as “semi-civilized”outsiders. In this respect, Turkey and Thailand resemble a handful of other non-Western countries such as Japan and China that suffered somedegree of Western intrusion into their domestic affairs, but nonethelessnever became subject to direct Western rule.
Such polities differ fromthose of formally colonized countries in having had more room to nego-tiate the transition to modernity on their own terms. At the same time,they are unlike Western states in that they had to adapt quickly to an in-ternational system whose rules they had little part in shaping. Moreover,despite the absence of formal colonization, both the Ottoman Empireand the Kingdom of Siam had experiences with European intrusion thatmight fairly be called highly traumatic.
 As a result, in both countries there emerged, first within the monar-chy and then within the newly Westernized military-bureaucratic es-tablishment, a reformist outlook that doggedly equated independencewith state-led modernization and national cohesion—a cohesion that,given the heterogeneity of both societies at the turn of the twentiethcentury, could not be passively assumed but had to be aggressivelyachieved. Against the background of the rigid civilizational hierarchiesthat marked the international system during the late nineteenth and earlytwentieth centuries, such groups came to see themselves as vanguards of the modern reform that they believed marked the only path to nationaldignity.In Turkey, the military-bureaucratic reformers were more aggressive:In 1922, they abolished the Ottoman sultanate. That their Thai counter-parts went only as far as establishing a constitutional monarchy in 1932probably had more to do with circumstances—had the Ottoman Empirebeen spared defeat in World War I, and had the last sultan (MehmedVI) not been so discredited by his cooperation with occupation forces,events in Turkey might have unfolded in a manner similar to those inThailand. The important point is that in both cases the lesson drawnfrom history and applied throughout most of the twentieth century wasthe same: The modernization and economic development required toprotect “the nation” had to be carried out under the careful guidance of an enlightened central power, which in Turkey meant the military and inThailand meant the military plus the monarchy.Hence, after brief experiments with insular foreign policies, bothcountries moved squarely into the Western camp, following state-ledbut nonsocialist development strategies throughout the twentieth centu-ry. This type of development generated its own winning institutional co-alition, complete with the usual political and economic privileges. Win-ners included the military-bureaucratic elite, a state-supported businesssector, and middle-class urbanites who embodied the state’s ideal of 

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