Thanathorn, give us a clearer path forward

opinion November 19, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

The Future Forward Party leader must move beyond condemning the junta – and hedging on Thaksin

With the election now evidently looming at last, the leader of the Future Forward Party has taken a firm stand against military intervention in politics, but what remains unclear is how he intends to deal with perceived flaws in Thailand’s wayward democracy.

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s criticism of Thaksin Shinawatra in a recent interview seemed half-hearted, concluding that the self-exiled former premier may well have done wrong but he was part a democratic system too immature to cope with his way of governing. Thanathorn needs to be bolder than this if he wants to take Thailand 

forward into the future.

He radiates youth, which for better or worse evokes the “democracy at all costs” attitude that has had a decidedly mixed history in this country. Thanathorn’s task is to convince the electorate that the fight for genuine democracy is worthwhile. Anyone can condemn military coups for shunting aside basic freedoms. What’s far more difficult is identifying and bringing about the changes that will be necessary to create the system that all of us, fundamentally, want to see.

In the interview, Thanathorn reiterated that, if coups actually curbed corruption, as is always professed at their outset, then Thailand would be the “cleanest” country in the world by now. What he failed to acknowledge is the fact that our efforts at democracy have never succeeded in curtailing corruption either. If he accepted that this is true, it would be clearer what he believes needs to be done. He cannot assail military “opportunism” without proposing viable means to protect democracy against future interventions.

We need to move beyond the rote tendency to demonise the generals and instead cultivate and support – through conscientious voting and other means of overt expression – responsible politicians who will serve the nation and their constituents rather than themselves and their cliques. If Thanathorn truly wants to safeguard society against military coups, he must offer us a way to cleanse democratic politics and render it inviolable against corruption. He must give democracy, which is our shared, yearned-for goal, genuine immunity.

No one would expect him or 

anyone else to accomplish this promptly. It will of course take time. But a democracy would be worth waiting for if it delivers, for example, a capable education minister dedicated to dragging Thai schooling into the 21st century so we can progress as a society. We want a democracy in which ministers accept responsibility and resign at the slightest hint of scandal rather than being merely rotated to another post. We want a democracy of checks and balances, not self-serving tilted scales.

Thanathorn has yet to demonstrate that Future Forward is indeed the way forward, but at the moment it appears to be one preferable choice to the established rival camps that flank the political divide, for whom biases irrevocably shape policies. Voters best look for new blood in the coming election – as long as the fresher candidates can first show they might be up to the challenge.

Youth, for all its precarious posturing, need not be a bar to trust. Today’s young politicians will be veterans after two or three more elections. Thanathorn, if he is to warrant our trust, must now give us a mature vision of what is possible and how it can be achieved.