With Yingluck Shinawatra gone, it's time for a fresh start. Photographer: Borja Sanchez-Trillo/Getty Images
With Yingluck Shinawatra gone, it's time for a fresh start. Photographer: Borja Sanchez-Trillo/Getty Images

The long campaign to oust Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra finally succeeded today, as Thailand’s Constitutional Court removed her from office for abuse of power. The case proves little, though -- least of all that her opponents should be allowed to subvert Thailand's democratic system and take her place.

The court’s verdict was a foregone conclusion, handed down barely 24 hours after Yingluck testified to defend her 2011 replacement of a top security official with one of her relatives. In the ongoing standoff between largely rural supporters of Yingluck and her brother, ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the Bangkok-dominated elite, the courts and the army have generally sided with the latter. Judges exercised some restraint by not ousting the government wholesale: The ruling Pheu Thai party was allowed to appoint a caretaker prime minister until new elections, tentatively scheduled for July, are held. But the opposition continues to vow to boycott them, demanding that an unelected council first be appointed to institute “reforms.”

This mulishness is self-destructive. The courts have now satisfied one of the opposition’s central demands by getting rid of Yingluck. For weeks this spring, the army allowed protesters great leeway as they tried to blockade Bangkok’s streets. Yet neither the judges, the generals nor the king -- the third leg of the traditionalist establishment -- has stepped in to replace Yingluck’s government, for at least one obvious reason: No undemocratically chosen administration would command legitimacy among a majority of Thais or the international community.

The opposition's continued refusal to stand in the elections -- even with more than two months to prepare -- simply cannot be justified. There's little reason to suspect that the July vote won’t be largely free and fair. If the Democrats and their allies lose again, as they have repeatedly over the past two decades, it will be because they have still not crafted a message that appeals to most of their countrymen, nor built a strong political organization that extends to all parts of the country.

Thailand's Troubled Democracy

The idea that popular democracy cannot work in Thailand is nonsense. In both India and Indonesia -- much bigger, more chaotic and more complicated countries -- hundreds of millions of citizens are about to elect new leaders. Many of those voters are poor and illiterate, susceptible to populist appeals or flat-out vote-buying. Yet polls show that voters in both countries are largely basing their decisions on the same criteria people follow anywhere else in the world: whether candidates seem capable of fostering economic growth and jobs, reducing corruption and improving government services. Even in war-torn Afghanistan, younger voters in particular are moving beyond the elemental appeals of tribe and cash to vote for candidates whose policies they prefer.

Does the Thai opposition really believe that its fellow citizens -- whose per-capita gross domestic product is much higher than in any of those other democracies -- are incapable of making similarly rational judgments? Or is it simply making a cynical and undemocratic grab for power? In other words, exactly what it ousted Yingluck for doing.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.