For politicians, self-interest matters more than the collective good
Politicians always act in ways that would gain them maximum benefit, often at the people’s expense.
Special to The Nation
Of course, they calculate the risks and the rewards all the time. It would be understandable if my opinions invite a lot of criticism from those who disagree with me, particularly the political class.
In a recent interaction Chuan Leekpai, the former PM and the current Speaker of the House, told me about his youth and his successful political career when participating as a guest in one of my special forums. I have met him several times and he has always said, “If all politicians are bad, our society might have been collapsed”. He cited himself as an example of one who was not born rich, but who struggled till he rose to power without any misconduct. “I eat, sleep and live in a temple to give myself opportunities to stand out as I am now and never yield to force or coercion from the powers-that-be,” he said. That is why people recognise him as a man of principles.
When talking about “risks” or other hazardous situations, it is not only politicians who have to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision; the rest of us also do the same thing. Frankly, my students are almost always checked and they ensure their grades would be satisfactory, otherwise they could choose to study with others. This does not mean they do not care for the quality of teaching, but they prefer to fulfil all targets they need at one time. In comparison with politicians, this is not a first come, first served system. Somehow it is a winner takes all game. “The more you take, the more you gain” might be the best policy for many politicians. So that they will not be left behind! That is why we often scold politicians as opportunists. In our society, we politely call them ‘career politicians’ who live their lives by working in the political arena without any other sources of income. I remember many of them did not have to file their personal income tax, as they did not receive any income during the military rule in previous years. This makes me wonder if they really depend on their political salary alone.
Without a doubt, I absolutely agree with the Speaker of the House that we live along with “the good, the bad and the ugly”. However, for many politicians, be they our own or those abroad, things are very much the same in terms of their hearts and minds. We do not know for sure what US President Joe Biden felt while he watched the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahari in Kabul, which was seen live in the White House. A similar incident happened a decade ago when then secretary of state Hillary Clinton was agitated and watched nervously in the White House live footage of the killing of Osama bin Laden. And later, after the killing of Libyan dictator Mu’ammar Gadhafi, she uttered the words “We came, we saw, he died”. This is not a joke but derived from Julius Caesar's famous Latin phrase “Veni, Vedi, Veci”, a swift and conclusive victory!
Our contemporary iron lady, US House speaker Nancy Pelosi, has managed to kick up a storm. Her visit to Taiwan ratcheted up tensions in the region and infuriated China, which announced live fire of missiles over Taiwan in a four-day military drill to blockade Taiwan island. I am sure these politicians had already calculated the risks but they decided to go ahead on their trusted information and most of all focus on the popularity they might gain. It’s hard to imagine the violent fallout if those intimidated countries reacted and responded with fierce measures. Who cares? The Chinese regime did not have too much choice to maintain the status quo but both the Taiwanese president and Pelosi might know very well the atrocities and calamity that would befall the Taiwanese people, not themselves. This is not fair and it’s not right that the innocent pay the price for actions they did not really initiate. It is simply a grandstanding of someone who wants to show the world they are really great and always number one on the world stage. Everyone realised something like this might occur at the time Hillary dreamed of becoming the first US woman president. What is Pelosi eyeing? And maybe Biden would like to prolong his tenure for the second term to celebrate and go down in US history as the oldest president, a record that would certainly be hard to better.
Back to Thailand, our beloved country. In the recent censure debate, the blame game between the opposition and government factions followed the usual script. As expected, politicians from both sides did not care about their dignity or even the people of the constituency they represent. Following rumours of vote buying, we saw a politician prostrate himself on the floor to pay his respects to a senior political leader. This picture was disseminated throughout the world not because people liked it but because they questioned our politicians as well as the political institution of our country. Was it for real or just a fantasy? Many wonder how come such a drama could take place and be so very effective here. Our politicians could vote against someone and simply bow or pay deep respects to clear up the mess once and for all. This means that they don’t have to carry the dignity and pride of their supporters. They have to only be preoccupied with survival, and their benefits matter more than anything else. Do the ends justify the means or is it the other way around?
(Amorn Wanichwiwatana, D.Phil. (Oxon), is a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University)