Success would mean a coup will never be needed ever again
The legend of Grandpa In, Grandpa Na and Grandpa Yoo is normally used as a cautionary tale to calm down squabbling children. But the simple story of how a third party can take advantage of two friends-turned-rivals has taken on broader significance in light of recent events. If the red shirts are playing the role of Grandpa In and the People’s Democratic Reform Committee is Grandpa Na, then the Thai military must be Grandpa Yoo. Many say political reform in Thailand is an incredibly complex issue, but the whole effort could boil down to how we reconcile Grandpa In and Grandpa Na in order to keep Grandpa Yoo at bay.
The jury is still out on the military, of course, but the fact that it has seized and is wielding power qualifies it for the role of Grandpa Yoo nonetheless. Coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha might hate the “Grandpa Yoo” name tag, but state power is like the choicest chunk of the fish in the folktale, and it’s in the hands of the military now. Like it or not, Prayuth is holding what the politicians used to have, fight for and accuse each other of not deserving.
It seems that many are willing to give Prayuth time to prove his sincerity. We wait to see whether the end will justify the means. To shake off the Grandpa Yoo label, Prayuth will need to make the red shirts give up the role of Grandpa In and the PDRC quit being Grandpa Na.
Prayuth’s key task is, therefore, quite ironic. He must spearhead efforts to reform Thailand’s badly twisted political system to prevent the necessity for people like him to play Grandpa Yoo in the future. In other words, the reforms must make Grandpa In and Grandpa Na coexist peacefully, without corruption. Only when Thailand has political peace, transparency and integrity will Grandpa Yoo become redundant.
The current system leaves Grandpas In and Na fighting a cut-throat battle over one fish. Each thinks the fish – state power – is theirs alone and each insists its claim is justified and legitimate. In fact, political power needs to be shared if democracy is to be achieved. The truth is that Thailand’s democracy has rarely been about sharing. It’s about grabbing, abusing, retaking and then repeating the vicious cycle.
Prayuth has talked about getting the politically divided “colours” to blend together. The good news is that he appears to understand the situation. The bad news is that many others do, too, and still nothing can really be done about it. However, regardless of whether the rivals are urged toward reconciliation, they are essential parts of the system, and as such they will determine the success or otherwise of the reforms. No reform will work while politicians can treat democracy like a fight to the death over a single prize.
We want the ballot box to be truly meaningful. We want to empower election winners. But we also want them to make the best use of their mandate for the country’s sake. The fish needs to be shared among Thais and not become any single group’s trophy. It’s in Prayuth’s hands now and his responsibility is simple: He must declare that it won’t be his forever, and that the only way for the others to have it is to learn the art of sharing and being honest.