January 29, 2014 00:00
By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Pro-protest intellectuals and media activists no longer need to write articles or letters to foreign media to explain to foreigners that protesters in Thailand want more, not less, democracy in the Kingdom.
Violence, death, injuries and disruption of advance voting in the capital and many southern provinces on Sunday have already told the story.
Many protesters and their active supporters, notably among the intellectual elite and media activists, were furious as some international media regarded the anti-government protest as an anti-democracy movement that called for less democracy. Some wrote open letters to politicians in Washington DC, which they believed was the source of full democracy, to explain they were fighting to clean up the country from corrupt politicians of the Shinawatra clan.
Some wrote opinion pieces to well known international media to say the protest really wanted nothing but clean democracy. Some protest leaders and speakers took to stages to talk in highly educated English about how peaceful and democratic the protest was.
Unfortunately, such efforts could never help change foreigners’ perceptions about Thai politics, as protesters never stop enforcing undemocratic actions.
The picture of an attack by protesters against a voter near a polling station in Bangkok on Sunday appeared in most popular international media outlets, not only in the English-speaking world, but also in many other Asian countries, such as China and Japan.
One picture told the whole story of political struggle in Thailand, and stereotypes the connotation of “anti-democracy”. Of course, there are plenty of reports on the death of protest leader Suthin Taratin on Sunday, but as long as details are not yet clear about his assassination, nobody could claim it was a result of democratic fighting. Only one message is clear – that he was shot dead during a campaign to block the advance election.
Violence and those who use violence against opponents must be condemned in the strongest words, but that would not help to restore the good reputation of protest in this country.
The protesters have proposed Thailand seriously needs critical reforms before an election – but have never determined clearly what they want to reform. The most problematic issue for Thai democracy in their demands was the call for an unelected “People’s Council” to enforce the reform.
The boycott of an election or even opposing the election is nothing new in the political struggle in this country and in the world. People rising up in other countries have also boycotted or opposed elections – but only when they saw it would not be free and fair, or the ruling government had made changes in the rules to get the upper hand.
In Thailand it was to the contrary. The opposition Democrat Party, which is closely associated with the protest, made some changes in the election law in its favour when it was in power during 2008-2011. There was no serious complaint about previous elections in 2011 that brought this current government into power. Hence, there was also no point in calling for reforms in election procedures before polling. And it makes no sense to disrupt an election that the protesters’ favourite party has boycotted.