The Politics of International Sanctions: The 2014 Coup in Thailand

Pavin Chachavalpongpun
December 11, 2014

Following the coup of 22 May 2014 in Thailand, the military has striven to narrow the democratic space while curtailing many forms of freedom. But even with the worst kind of authoritarianism, political legitimacy remains fundamental for the longevity of the regime. To prolong its political life, the military has embarked on distributing economic benefits to the people in an effort to acquire acceptance and loyalty through various populist programs, a practice made famous by its political nemesis, the Shinawatra political clan. For example, the military has ordered the disbursement of funds owed to poor farmers by the previously deposed government under a rice subsidy program. For the military, its survival depends on popular appeal. To keep the people happy, the military must demonstrate its ability to deliver economic benefits; and this partly hinges on how much the West perceives the suspension of democratic freedoms as a threat. Thailand is vulnerable to sanctions as it is linked to global supply chains of crucial commodities. The disruption of these links would impact the local economy and thus local consumers. Here, international sanctions have the potential to influence the behavior of the Thai junta. The United States and the European Union have warned that they may take more aggressive measures, including boycotting Thai products, if the military fails to restore democracy soon. Harsher sanctions will affect the economic livelihood of Thais and could consequently defy the legitimacy of the military regime.