Monday, July 06, 2020

Love democracy? Reproach the politicians

Oct 23. 2018
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Your kid gets assaulted by a big boy every time he smirks at the latter. What’s the first thing you do? Of course, you tell your kid to stop smirking. As for the “bully”, you can take care of him later.

That’s one analogy for every hater of the Thai military out there. If you hate the coups, don’t spoil the politicians. It’s as simple as that. If Thai soldiers are opportunists, make sure the politicians stop giving them opportunities. If the military tends to exploit every mistake made by elected politicians, teach the latter to be responsible for every bad thing they do, no matter how “small”.

The outcry against new Army chief Apirat Kongsompong for his refusal to rule out another coup is barking up the wrong tree. First and foremost, we can’t expect the eldest son of a former coup leader to say that staging a coup is committing a grave sin. Second, he led an operation to reclaim a satellite TV station being occupied by red-shirt protesters in 2010. Third and perhaps more significantly, previous Army chiefs have denied planning coups, only to break their politically correct promises in a heartbeat.

Fourth and maybe most important, chastising Apirat may send “your kid” the wrong message. It’s tantamount to telling him to keep on smirking at the bully because the child will be well protected from now on.

There are good reasons why we should deal with the child first and the bully later. The bully lives far away, and we don’t know what kind of weapons he has or how far he is prepared to go in his wayward behaviour. We deal with our kid first and go to the police or visit the bully ourselves when all else fails.

Some may argue the bully is nit-picking. If the kid doesn’t smirk at him, he will probably find another “reason” to lunge at the child. It’s the parents’ job, however, to expose that “reason”, and the next, and the next, until the bully runs out of pretexts. If the kid behaves perfectly but still gets bullied, then we can go after the big boy.

Everyone says coups are bad, but repeating it over and over is not going to stop the trend. Prohibiting coups in the Constitution will never work because the charter can be torn up in the blink of an eye. Staging a people’s uprising might keep over-ambitious military officers quiet for a few years but it will also make future coup-makers more proactive in preventing such eventualities.

There is something slippery about military “intervention” in politics. We only need to look back at recent history. An anti-military uprising in 1992 was hailed as a concerted effort by citizens to teach coup-makers a crucial lesson. Nobody would dare to stage a coup ever again, it was said at the time. As it turned out, the next military takeover toppled one of the most popular civilian governments in 


Again, condemning Apirat or any “coup apologist” is not the way to go. We hate and fear rapists but rather than write Facebook posts against them, we tell our daughters to get home early and avoid dressing too provocatively. It’s the first thing we do.

Coup-makers will rule no matter what. With some public support, they may do so relatively easily. Without support, they just tighten the screws. The best we can do is to acknowledge that coup plotters are always lurking, and to teach the politicians to behave responsibly. To be fair to Prayut Chan-o-cha, political killings and senseless bombings at protest sites stopped when he rolled out the tanks for the bloodless coup of 2014.

Soldiers all over the world have influenced politics, more or less. There is no exception, not even in such places as America. In some countries they are saviours and in others they are bullies. There are also bullies who think they are saviours and saviours who are considered bullies. All categories exist.

If we are to really embrace democracy, we must treat it as our child, who is up against the big boy in the neighbourhood. We can’t focus on the latter and keep pampering the former. After all, there are so many ways we can control our kid and so little we can do about the bully. 

The prelude to next year’s election and its aftermath may be crucial. It’s time for us to either tell our kid to “Stop smirking!” or say to him “I’ve got your back. You have done absolutely nothing wrong. Don’t worry about anything.” 




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