Whither Thai democracy?

Mandala

October 16th, 2008 by Jim Taylor, Guest Contributor ·

In a world of uncertainty nothing is more uncertain than Thai politics especially over the past three years. Nothing has been more frustrating than a society that is so intractably divided and where reason has been jettisoned for skewed personal interests.

Latest cyber news suggests that there will be a coup shortly. In some ways this is surprising when one considers that after the 2006 coup the Khor Mor Chor (military junta or CNS) emplaced nearly half of its hand-picked anti-Thaksin Senators (some seventy-six in total out of 150 seat senate) and a small army of investigators – the so-called “independent” state bodies – to find some hard evidence against Thaksin to back up Sondhi Limthongkul’s spurious accusations through his ASTV and the Manager Group’s print media. They were effective over the past three years in the mass brainwashing of urban society with a judgement against Thaksin even as they tried desperately to find real evidence to support the supposition.    

Before Khor Mor Chor there were a number of independent bodies such as the NCCC and the Constitutional Court (CC), then after coup they were replaced with the Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC) and Constitutional Tribunal to target Thaksin. These were handpicked people selected by the coup-makers. The EC was also implanted with the junta’s own people who had something against Thaksin. The coup-makers also created other so-called “independent” bodies such as Draft Constitutional Council (DCC). Most of these folk were taken from the judiciary. After one and a half years of the coup government these bodies were dissolved and the country went back to the NCCC and CC. But the same handpicked junta people remained in these bodies all working in tandem and passing decisions among themselves to ensure a guilty verdict against Thaksin. This was important given the flimsy evidence at hand. They also wanted to ensure that the Democrat Party would become the elected government after the elections. But this did not happen. There was a gentleman’s agreement in place whereby the Democrats would protect the coup-makers and those involved in the junta’s Brave New World 2007 government.

After every previous coup in Thailand the Democrats came into government to protect the coup-makers: this was supposed to be the case last year. A coup détat, after all, is constitutionally illegal in Thailand. 

Thaksin had to be found guilty by whatever means as too many of the junta’s people had their reputations at stake. The new judiciary was bought over with promises of extended tenure for another ten years (they can now retire at seventy years of age), united together and chosen anti-Thaksinites all now firmly embedded in the system to ensure a continued flow of skewed decisions and control and regulation according to the anti-democratic 2007 Constitution; a key element of which was to protect coup-makers and these “independent bodies” from any future prosecution.  Many of these bodies will be in power until 2013/2015 to make sure Thai Rak Tha (TRT) and Thaksin will never reappear again on the political landscape. 

The problem is that most people actually liked TRT and Thaksin’s policies and could actually see how these policies benefitted them.  But then there was a downside: some of Thaksin’s policies actually hurt many elites and powerful interests including local mafia. The People Power Party (PPP) similarly has the popular consensus while other political parties can only look on and see that as things stand they would never have an opportunity to share in the spoils of government from the ballot box. All they could do was to call foul in the election process – and the EC was happy to listen.

The coup seemed so neat. However, neither General Sonthi Boonyaratglin nor appointed junta PM General Surayud Chulanont had the aggression to deliver the coup de grâce on Thaksin and TRT as desired by the Supreme Puppet-Master General Prem Tinsulanonda. While the Democrat Party waited for an opportunity to take government away from the electorate’s choice. The junta underestimated the anti-coup group (red shirts). They thought that, as in the past, they could emplace a puppet government in power (i.e. the Democrat Party) to protect them.

This time things were different. The electorate had seen that Thaksin’s policies were the best so far and could see real benefits from voting for beneficial liberal policies.  This was democracy in process. Post-coup PPP were elected with Samak Sundaravej appointed as PM and then the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) reemerged in the streets. Their calls were for a new morality — but whose morality? They were not happy with the people’s choice because TRT had come back to haunt them in a new incarnation. This is why Thailand has suffered from continued riots: PAD and its aristocratic supporters could see they were not going to win on democratic grounds, but instead on issues of primordial national sentiment.

Remember, before the coup in 2006 Prem asked his people who they had primary allegiance to: the monarchy, or the elected government. Prem, as Chief Privy Councilor, has long controlled much of what goes in and what goes out of the palace.

PAD, the “People Against Democracy”, are a grouping of disenchanted intellectuals, elites, NGOs (harking back to the days when governments actually listened to them) and middle class Thai business interests – many of whom lost significantly in 1997 financial crisis and wanted the banks and favorable political interests to “help them along” – which Thaksin refused to do. This motley collection of urban folk, and many supporters from the south of Thailand where the Democrat Party reigns supreme (and of course this is Prem’s home), want to establish a status quo ante and control over government at any cost; even at the cost of the semi-democratizing nation state. Right now PAD has five police generals behind it as well as some senior army bosses. The group of five leaders also claim “higher support”. They started with yellow and then, more recently, changed to predominantly display blue. This perplexed observers for a while until, well, the penny dropped: The queen came out this week in an open show of support for PAD attending the funeral of a female PAD victim from the street violence last week and did not show up for the cremation of anti-PAD protestors some weeks before. But then she had long been close to Prem. It may also be a reaction to Princess Siridhorn’s comment in the US last week when questioned whether PAD were doing this for royalty as she replied that they were “doing it for themselves”. This was only reported in Matichon’s Khao Sod as most of the country’s print media had already chosen sides some years back. This infuriated wannabe media tycoon Sondhi who said that they probably reported it wrong or mistranslated it and then called upon his supporters to boycott this publication. 

Then when the queen came out yesterday all was clear again for PAD to continue claiming its legitimacy…back to square one.  

Meanwhile, the opposition is no longer prepared to take it sitting down. Enough is enough. Nor Por Chor (”People’s Alliance Against Dictatorship”, the anti-PAD group) are hoping to hold out until the end of the month when annual reshuffling will be finished, when many high ranking pro-PAD public servants are due to retire and taking the control of weapons out of the hands of the pro-PAD army elites; hence the urgency of getting the new government’s policy statement read through the house and allowing some movement for the elected PPP to govern…The power holders will then be in place. Traditionally, Prem controlled all appointments. Thaksin did not consult with Prem — and this was his most serious mistake and his subsequent downfall. He was the only PM to challenge Prem. All PMs in the past consulted with Prem as he would position his people in power to control all government sectors.  The budget is being determined now for next year. Once people are in place within various agencies and the budget allocated, the process cannot be easily changed.

Prem sent his representative (General Pathompong) to tell the over-stressed police to back off every time — even when police charges are laid against PAD members…They never stay long incarcerated. Pathompong is the husband of Supatra Masadit (a Democrat Party politician and former minister) and is seen on PAD’s stage in full uniform giving encouragement to the mob. It is with Prem’s sanction otherwise he would not do this. The king has been silenced, though he met with the current PM Somchai Wongsawat who emerged from a meeting yesterday looking sombre. Apparently the king told Somchai to continue with his work.

Is Thailand heading towards emulating Burma? Let’s see.  There is too much at stake for the Amaat (aristocrats or traditional elites): The arch-enemy of democracy nominated by Kho Mor Chor last year Senator Rosana Tositrakul said something dramatic will happen within seven days. A threat or what?

Red Shirts/Nor Por Chor asked all the faithful to gather at Sanam Luang last Sunday at which time they said they would expose who is behind the anti-democracy campaign. But they did not say anything at the time. Thaksin also knows a lot but he will not talk – as least right now.

The queen is either naive or politically bold; she has palace elites around her feeding PAD (literally and metaphorically). Her closeness to Prem has long been well known since she protected Prem during the clash with General Arthit Kamlangek in the 1980s & etc…The queen’s open support for PAD at the funeral yesterday has given the PAD a blank cheque for direct action against the government. Will this be the final coup? Sondhi said way back that his political party was in fact the “Chakri Party”! He knew all along where the buck stopped and in his brashness felt fully protected by the queen.

The “Udorn group”, a core PPP Northeast area with entrenched early TRT supporters, are now mobilising. The elite group of people and those around PAD who think the political process in Thailand has to be dumped have destroyed the very seeds of legislative and judicial integrity and the people have nothing left to depend upon; democracy however defined is doomed. Samak Sundaravej, who has been ill, was one of Thailand’s most experienced politicians and knew the consequences of action against PAD. It was a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t: they got at him anyway. If all this assessment is correct then one may reasonably ask what is left for Thailand other than going the way of Burma?

If this all does not make much sense then remember what Alice said: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

“goodbyedemocracy”

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