Why Thaksin’s latest pledge rings hollow

opinion August 13, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

True respect, not death, is what democracy wants



Yet another vow has been made by Thaksin Shinawatra to fight for democracy to the death. This time, though, there is no extreme tension on the streets and thus nobody is risking gunfire in the immediate aftermath of his defiant words. He was referring to the next election and expressing hope that his political party would once again prevail in the first democratic exercise after a long break.

The irony is old news. The apparently courageous “rallying cry” was made from afar, where he has been living after running away from a court verdict under a democratically elected government controlled by his party. Democracy, for which he always pledges to die fighting, is better off without him as its representative.

Thaksin still equates elections with democracy. The truth is that the system he publicly seems to cherish requires more than ballots in boxes. If he really wants to promote democracy, he must give equal weight to other matters, namely respect for checks and balances and the rule of law that are basically the only way to deal with wayward people voted into power.

His inability to detach himself from democracy must have worked in favour of those trying to belittle the ideal. Ordinary enemies of democracy can topple governments and tear up constitutions, but greater damage to the system can only be inflicted from the inside. Healthy democracy – based on political integrity and serving the public interest, not the personal needs of those in power – is hard to put down, but itsflawed variants are not even half as strong.

Thaksin can fight for himself for as much and as long as he wants, but that should be it. To associate that fight with an ideal, he weakens not only himself but also a concept he does not seem to really understand. Whenever Thaksin talks about democracy, it’s always about the ballot box and only about the ballot box. Other crucial components of the system are never mentioned.

If Thaksin really understood democracy, he would not have let his then-wife Pojaman buy that piece of land from the government while he was in power. Then he would not have run away from the law that tried to penalise him in connection with the purchase. Lastly, he would not have held largely destructive grudges against a system that tried to show the purchase was bad for the country in the long run.

His party will likely win the next election, and he along with his supporters will portray it as a victory for democracy. The majority of people likes his methods and will say it should be the end of the story. True democracy is never that simple, however, because it is supposed to dignify voters’ choices and the action of their choices, not serve as a slippery slope towards greedy protection and individual enrichment.

A well-known democratic joke in Thailand is that politicians always prostrate themselves before voters before election, but it’s vice versa the rest of the time. It’s certainly the same in other parts of the world, since rhetoric is an integral part of pre-election periods. However, what’s common isn’t necessarily healthy, and the case in point is Thaksin’s latest emotional pledge.

The Thai military regime can be an easy target, but attacking it is never a long-term solution. Thaksin does not have to die fighting for democracy. All he has to do is accept its tough demands that differentiate the ideal from the others.