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'Debate, criticism crucial to foster a democratic society'

Jun 22. 2015
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CREATING a culture of debate and criticism and also respect for the political opinions of others are essential to ensure a democratic Thailand, a symposium marking 83 years since the end of absolute monarchy concluded yesterday.
People “should be willing to face the truth and respect differing political opinions and debate,” social critic Sulak Sivaraksa said.
Many Thais simply do not know how to debate, he said. “Thais do not dare to argue or pose questions,” he said.
Sulak was speaking at a panel discussion on 83 years of Thai political development since the June 24, 1932 revolt, which ended absolute monarchy. The seminar was organised by Rangsit University’s Faculty of Economics and Heroes of Democracy Foundation.
Moral courage is also amiss in society, with rectors and presidents of all universities having no courage to criticise the military junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and the charter drafters, over the ages serving one dictator after another, he said.
Witthayakorn Chiangkoon, dean of Rangsit University’s Social Innovation College, said Thais are not keen on analysing things and have a weak culture of criticism compared to others like the Chinese.
“We must look at issues critically and offer criticism,” he said. “How can we reform and make people politically alert? Educational reform is key.”
Education must be based on learning in order to be able to help other people, as no democracy or development can be achieved without a more equitable distribution of wealth.
Asst Prof Anusorn Tamajai, dean of Rangsit University’s Economics Faculty, said genuine democracy cannot be realised without the participation of the masses in politics. 
He blamed repeated coups for interrupting the democratisation process in the Kingdom and said during the Cold War, the United States even supported the military dictatorship of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in the hope of keeping communism at bay – which was “wrong”.
“Staging coups should have been relegated to history and Thailand should not have to step backward,” he said.
Magsaysay Award winner Prateep Ungsongtham Hata, a committee member of the Heroes of Democracy Foundation, said many poor people have already learned that voting is not just their right but also a means to improve their livelihood. 
By choosing political parties with receptive policies, they can enjoy a higher standard of living.
Military dictatorship cannot be truly responsive to citizens and there can be no social justice under the barrel of a gun. “What matters is justice,” she said.
Anusorn said corruption must be sharply reduced to prevent future military coups and it should be made compulsory for military officers to take a course on democracy. 
Future charters should also state the punishment for those who dare to stage a coup in the future and a proposal should be made to have the Asean charter not recognise a regime that installs itself through a military putsch.

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