Sunday, May 31, 2020

Not The Nation’s fault the leopard didn’t change its spots

May 24. 2019
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Re: “The Nation helped give birth to a junta it now protests against”, Have Your Say, May 24.

Allow me to utter a few words in defence of The Nation, which a reader named Denim slams for supporting the junta in its early days. This newspaper is slated to stop printing at the end of June because of financial difficulties and a change in public reading habits. Nothing like kicking a newspaper when it’s down, eh, Denim?

I don’t recall The Nation’s original reaction to the coup and its immediate aftermath. I do recall my own reaction, which I suspect was widely shared. I don’t like military coups or military dictatorships, but my immediate response was to give the junta the benefit of the doubt: “Maybe they can clean things up.” I was willing to suspend judgement for a year or two.

Well, guess what – the leopard does not change its spots, nor the military its fondness for authoritarianism. The junta imposed order on a chaotic situation, for which many of us were grateful. But then it gradually started to concentrate power in its own hands. Remember its bungling attempts to write a new constitution? As I recall, that went on for something like two years and wasted a ton of money. But the junta didn’t like the result, scrapped it, and imposed a new constitution that stacked the deck in its favour.

So here we are. The new regime promises to be a repeat of some very old regimes, with the military firmly in charge. Would Thailand be any better off with elected civilians in charge? The tragedy is, probably not. Thai politics tends to breed clowns and thugs. It is not unique in this respect, but in Thailand the really good people stay out of politics. The best government we ever had was that of Anand Panyarachun and he was appointed by Suchinda Krapayoon, the military strongman of the day. Study that regime and you may very well conclude, as I did, that Anand was the very embodiment of the Confucian junzi, the noble-minded sage extolled in the Analects. 

Suchinda and Anand were the quintessential Odd Couple. To his credit, Suchinda gave Anand virtually dictatorial powers. That’s good only if the dictator is good and stays good. Anand did both. The Suchinda-Anand duumvirate provides a possible model for future regimes, but, barring divine intervention, that is unlikely to happen.

The bottom line is that, whether Thailand has a military or a civilian government, the country is screwed because of the quality of the people who usually wind up running things. Change that and you change everything.

S Tsow


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