The problem with citing English philosopher John Stuart Mill in support of Thai democracy is that he wasn’t consistent. While he supported additional voting powers for university graduates on the grounds that they knew best what was good for the country, he also justified despotism as a legitimate mode of government when dealing with “barbarians” – whomever they might be. His belief in utilitarianism justified actions that led to the greatest quantifiable happiness of the majority. So what happens to the minority and their civil rights?
Perhaps Thailand’s biggest political problem is precisely the “winner-takes-all” attitude routinely adopted by those in government. Likewise, Mill’s philosophy can be twisted to justify domineering behaviour as long as a majority of voters agrees. History has thrown up some very nasty examples of that approach, not least Nazi Germany.
Whatever may be said against the coup-makers, they are trying to avoid the “musical chairs” putsches of yesteryear, when the ruling class was temporarily reshuffled without lasting results. Interim Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is attempting to achieve a “breakthrough” coup of root-and-branch reforms, which is illustrated by the draft charter and various other initiatives. Of course, there are minefields and icebergs ahead, but it’s a uniquely bold attempt.