Buddha or the Ballot: The Buddhist Exception to Universal Suffrage in Contemporary Asia



In the spate of little more than a year, between August 2007 and September 2008, three countries with predominantly Buddhist populations enacted new constitutions. In the case of Thailand, this was just the last iteration of a turbulent constitutional history that goes back to 1932, when the absolute monarchy was overthrown. Yet it constituted a first step toward a return of some semblance of democratic processes, which had been put on hold after the army’s ‘royalist’ coup d’état against the Thaksin Shinawatra government in September 2006.l In the case of Burma/Myanmar, the promulgation of a new constitution marked an even more significant step in the country’s transition from outright military rule toward a more democratic political system.2 For Bhutan, the new constitution was the first of its kind, marking the end to an era of quasi-absolute monarchical rule in the Himalayan state.3 In all three states, then, the enactment of new constitutions was part and parcel of a process of reform intended to make their political systems appear more democratic.


Political Participation Religious Order Electoral Politics Guardian State Representative Institution 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Winichakul, T. (2008) ‘Toppling Democracy,’ Journal of Contemporary Asia 38, 11–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Englehart, N. (2012) ‘Two Cheers for Burma’s Rigged Election,’ Asian Survey 52, 666–86;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Taylor, R. (2012) ‘Myanmar,’ Asian Affairs 43, 221–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3.
    Sinpeng, A. (2007) ‘Democracy from Above,’ Journal of Bhutan Studies 17, 21–48;Google Scholar
  5. Turner, M. et al. (2011) ‘Democratization by Decree,’ Democratization 18, 184–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 4.
    Massicotte, L. et al. (2004) Establishing the Rules of the Game (Toronto: University of Toronto Press).Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See Temperman, J. (2010) State-Religion Relationships and Human Rights Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff), pp. 327–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 9.
    Larsson, T. (2015) ‘Monkish Politics in Southeast Asia,’ Modern Asian Studies 49, 40–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 11.
    Lindberg Falk, M. (2007) Making Fields of Merit (Copenhagen: MAS), p. 2.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    Gravers, M. (2013) ‘Spiritual Politics, Political Religion, and Religious Freedom in Burma,’ The Review of Faith and International Affairs 11, 46–54;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 14.
    See Kuru, A. T. (2011), ‘Passive and Assertive Secularism,’ World Politics 59, 568–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 15.
    see Ketelaar, J. (1990) Of Heretics and Martyrs in Meiji Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press);Google Scholar
  13. Mason, R. H. P. (1969) Japan’s First General Election 1890 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 32–33.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Harris, I. (2012) Buddhism in a Dark Age (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press).Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    See Bowie, K. (2010) ‘Women’s Suffrage in Thailand,’ Comparative Studies in Society and History 52, 708–41;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. and Loos, T. (2004) ‘The Politics of Women’s Suffrage in Thailand,’ in L. Edwards and M. Roces (eds.) Women’s Suffrage in Asia (London: Routledge Curzon).Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    see Sreang, H. (2008), ‘The Scope and Limitations of Political Participation by Buddhist Monks,’ in A. Kent and D. Chandler (eds.) People of Virtue: Reconfiguring Religion, Power and Morality in Cambodia Today (Copenhagen: NIAS).Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    See Lynch, D. C. (2004) ‘International “Decentering” and Democratization,’ International Studies Quarterly 48, 339–62;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. and Lynch, D. C. (2006) Rising China and Asian Democratization (Stanford: Stanford University Press).Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Dahl, R. (1989) Democracy and Its Critics (New Haven: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  21. 29.
    Stepan, A. C. (2000) ‘Religion, Democracy, and the “Twin Tolerations”,’ Journal of Democracy 11, p. 39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 31.
    Streckfuss, D., and Templeton, M. (2002), ‘Human Rights and Political Reform in Thailand,’ in D. McCargo (ed.) Reforming Thai Politics (Copenhagen: NIAS), p. 83.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Gentile, E. (2006) Politics as Religion (Princeton: Princeton University Press).Google Scholar
  24. 34.
    See Taylor, R. (2009) The State in Myanmar (Singapore: NUS Press), p. 173.Google Scholar
  25. 37.
    Brennan, J. (2011) The Ethics of Voting (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 5–6.Google Scholar
  26. 38.
    Hongladarom, S., and K. Hongladarom (2011), ‘Cyber-Buddhism,’ in U. Mårtensson et al. (eds.) Tundamentalism in the Modern World (2) (London: IB Taurus), p. 226.Google Scholar
  27. 40.
    Katz, R. (1997) Democracy and Elections (Oxford: Oxford University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 43.
    Queen, C. S. (1996b), ‘Introduction,’ in C. Queen and S. King (eds.) Engaged Buddhism (Albany: SUNY).Google Scholar
  29. 48.
    Harding, A. (2007), ‘Buddhism, Human Rights and Constitutional Reform in Thailand,’ Asian Journal of Comparative Law 2, 6.Google Scholar
  30. 51.
    Jordt, I. (2007) Burma’s Mass Lay Meditation Movement (Athens: Ohio University Press), pp. 236–37.Google Scholar
  31. 52.
    Puntarigvivat, T. ‘Phrasong Thai Kap Sitthi Nai Kan Lueak Tang,’ Matichon, 19 December 2004, p. 6;Google Scholar
  32. 54.
    See Tambiah, S. (1992) Buddhism Betrayed? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press);Google Scholar
  33. and Satha-anand, S. (2003) ‘Buddhist Pluralism and Religious Tolerance in Democratizing Thailand,’ in P. Cam (ed.) Philosophy, Democracy and Education (Seoul: Korean National Commission for UNESCO).Google Scholar
  34. 60.
    Lintner, B. (2009) The Resistance of the Monks (New York: Human Rights Watch), p. 24.Google Scholar
  35. 61.
    Asian Network for Free Elections (2009) Vision of a Blueprint (Bangkok: ANFREL), p. 7.Google Scholar
  36. 64.
    See Meisburger, T. (2009), Constitutional Reform and Democracy in Thailand (Bangkok: Asia Foundation), pp. 12, 91.Google Scholar
  37. 65.
    Asian Network for Free Elections (2001) The Emergence of New Politics in Thailand (Bangkok: ANFREL).Google Scholar
  38. 66.
    Asian Network for Free Elections (2005) 2005 Mission Report, pp. 46–47 (Bangkok: ANFREL).Google Scholar
  39. 67.
    Asian Network for Free Elections, 2005 Mission Report, p. 47.Google Scholar
  40. 68.
    Asian Network for Free Elections (2007) Thailand Restoring Democracy (Bangkok ANFREL).Google Scholar
  41. 69.
    Asian Network for Free Elections (2012) Thailand General Election (Bangkok ANFREL), p. 37.Google Scholar
  42. 72.
    Beech, H. (2013), ‘Straying from the Middle Way,’ Time, 20 June 2013.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tomas Larsson 2016

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations