Thursday, December 03, 2020

Predicting winners difficult, identifying the loser easy

Jun 04. 2019
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By Tulsathit Taptim
The Nation

Most people see Prayut Chan-o-cha winning today. Barring a delay and assuming that everything goes as expected, Parliament should elect him prime minister. The triumph may be short-lived, however, as his government will be skating on thin ice from day one. Many analysts predict its rapid collapse, which means that even if he wins today, victory may be irrelevant.

Prayut’s problems are numerous. His allies are restless and unpredictable and may turn against him anytime. His support in the House of Representatives is fragile, something both friends and enemies know full well and will use to their advantage. The opposition is strong and capable of applying more pressure by taking to the streets. Any misstep will be pounced on by opposition politicians, who will point to Prayut’s military link and tell the public, “We told you so.” He can’t expect Western powers, their media and activists to be friendly either.

Signs of trouble ahead are there for all to see. Sharing out the cake of political power among hungry allies has proven extremely hard. If Prayut becomes PM, he may have to supervise a bunch of lunatics dancing across a minefield with wild abandon. And this is assuming that he is not one of them.

For stock investors here and abroad, this is not the worst part. If Prayut is voted in and then ousted, whoever takes over will be facing similar problems and likely the same short lifespan. The March 24 election showed Thailand is just as divided as it was at the previous poll; we are witnessing a loop, not progress.

The reason for this is easy to explain but difficult to tackle. “Winner-takes-all” politics brings no ultimate winner, only the inevitable cycle of demonisation and propaganda. Thai governments crumble because leaders compromise and forget their duty to put the right men in the right jobs. And no matter how much they compromise, they cannot please everybody, hence the back-stabbing begins as soon as a government is formed.

This kind of politics makes it tough to predict the winners, but easy to identify the losers – who are always the people. With politicians keeping the revolving doors in spin, qualified administrators barely get a look in. “Compromise” ensures that Cabinet posts are decided by the size of parties or factions, not the quality of candidates. We have seen a politician whose family taunted the law become justice minister, a science minister who paid homage at a shrine on taking office, and the education portfolio offered merely as a sop to pacify potential rebels.

Where in the law or Constitution does it say “big” parties should run “big” ministries? This is where Prayut’s understanding of “serving the people” needs to be corrected. Why are either the “new generation” or “conservatives” so important? This is where Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is wrong in his desire to play politics. 

Prayut and Thanathorn – and every other politician, for that matter – must accept something they have so far declined to acknowledge. The people don’t care whether the parties that won a large share of the vote are in charge of “big” ministries or not. And they don’t care if they live under “old” or “new” politics, as long as they have food on the table, their debts are manageable, their children go to school, and the justice system does not discriminate between rich and poor.

These simple needs have not been prioritised. Every day we hear about who is getting which ministry. Every day brings news of proposed constitutional amendments that will do nothing about poor labour skills or drug addiction. And every day brings pressure to “end a dictatorship” whose presence is felt far less than Bangkok’s mammoth traffic problems.

It’s always about politicians’ problems, never about the people’s concerns. The main problem is they don’t want to lose, which in turn causes the people big trouble. They take turns winning and losing while consigning the rest of us to the status of perpetual losers.

Opinion polls should be taken with a pinch of salt nowadays, but Thai politicians who dismiss the latest do so at their peril. A Dusit Poll survey confirmed what the politicians refuse to acknowledge – that the people see through their self-interested plotting and are fed up with political games in the wake of the general election. The survey showed that the public knows the delay in forming the new government has nothing to do with the public interest.

The real “losers” are smart, but they are bitter too. The people have had to grit their teeth and bear it when politicians claimed they were fighting for the country, that their personal problems were caused by injustice, not the other way round.

Some politicians will lose this week, while others will win. But neither triumph nor defeat will last. Winners will become losers and vice versa. They will either vow they are here to stay, or pledge a comeback. For the true losers, it’s anything but cause to be optimistic.

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