By Kavi Chongkittavorn
Much has been said and done along the 81-year-old winding road of Thailand's troubled democratic route. While Thai politics always befuddles analysts, Thai people still think democracy is the best form of government. And it shows.
Most arguments contain a cause-and-effect dichotomy, backed up with “evidence” citing the electoral process, and the logic of the rule of law and governance. On top of that, the class struggle, together with the urban/rural divide, are still the dominant themes used in explanations of the country’s political turbulence.
After the dramatic abdication of King Prajadhipok in June 1932, whenever the country encountered political deadlock, two obvious solutions came into effect. One was the usual military intervention that has been the key feature of Thai political shifts. After 17 coups with various justification and excuses, including the infamous “any inconvenience caused” of 2006, Thai democracy has become the butt of jokes worldwide. The other solution was through royal bestowment.
After several decades of advocacy, various democratic institutions including check-and-balance institutions are still fragile and inefficient. The low level of public literacy and awareness of democratic values and collective responsibility remains problematic.
From today onward, a new political landscape is in the offing even though nobody knows exactly where the future may lie.
The snowball effect of the month-long demonstration has created new opportunities for efforts to undertake comprehensive political reform in the country. Various stakeholders have fervently demanded a democracy with Thai characteristics – a concept that needs further elaboration.
During these past few weeks, new political discourse has taken place. Millions of people of all ages have taken up common platforms, shared a common political experience and learned directly the power of participatory politics at its best. In particular, the younger and even older generations have been baptised by intense political discourse and connectivity of crosscutting crowds at different locations that go beyond the usual political polarisations.
When the small rally started modestly at Samsen railway station five weeks ago, with repeated apologies to residents living in the areas due to the loud noise of the protesters, nobody thought for a second the rally would snowball into a nation-wide movement. Other rallies comprised coalitions of civil society groups, student networks at different locations later joined by business and religious communities. Now all anti-government protesters have merged into a single movement known as the People's Democrat Reform Committee.
In a democracy, voters elect a government to take care of their livelihoods and run the country they belong to. Thailand is no exception. In this case, they temporarily ceded their sovereignty to the poll winners, including those who bought votes wholesale.
The 2007 Constitution’s Article 3 states succinctly that the sovereign powers belong to the Thai people. Today, the Thais are marching in all corners of the country and asking for the return of their sovereign rights. Under the charter’s Section 10, Article 87, five provisions also clearly guarantee the broad-based rights of public participation in all state affairs. The Thai people want their sovereign rights back. This is a new political awakening, fragile and uncertain as it may be.
It was ironic that last week Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul was appointed head of the Centre of Administration for Peace and Order. The hard-core Thaksin lieutenant was placed there to serve his boss in exile and protect his sister. Nonetheless, his actions will seriously impact on Thai diplomacy. Yingluck said he would be able to explain Thailand's political situation to the international community. So far, Yingluck has done most of the talking.
Her government is media savvy. While she shunned local media, she gave numerous interviews to foreign correspondents reiterating electoral victory without addressing accountability and abuses of power – the bone of contention. For weeks, she succeeded in creating a thick smoke screen masking a darker world of corruption, cronyism and complacency. Her media team wanted to use overseas pressure against the local media.
The Western countries, which are the key supporters of “the principle of responsibility to protect”, must be mindful that when a government does not serve its people, the state sovereignty should be returned to the people as soon as possible. Now the marchers are doing exactly that.
Today’s outcome is hard to predict even though the national mood has changed. One trend is clear, though, Thai politics is gradually breaking away from the all-too-familiar vicious cycle. With several hundred thousand people showing up and exercising their sovereign rights peacefully – the country's rulers as well as the world at large need to listen in. It is no longer politics as usual.