February 05, 2014 00:00
By Tulsathit Taptim
You did the right thing. Yes, you who went out and cast your "No" votes on Sunday. You did what your hearts told you and nobody can argue with that. The bad news is, the simplicity ends right there where it started. Politics is mean, and it's hovering
The question is already out there: Are “No” votes meant to be an anti-Pheu Thai protest or a message that you disagree with Suthep Thaugsuban absolutely? Easy, you may say, “it’s both”.
But we both know better, don’t we?
It’s a paradox. Suthep wanted to torpedo this election because he did not want Pheu Thai to win. You voting “No” meant you also did not want Pheu Thai to win. So, in this aspect you must be agreeing with Suthep. Only, you chose to say so through the ballot box.
But Pheu Thai was also saying that voting is an integral part of democracy. So you agreed with Pheu Thai on this, meaning Suthep was unequivocally wrong. You endorsed Pheu Thai’s ultimate idea of democracy, so to speak. In practice you embraced the values that Pheu Thai proclaimed to embody, but you still didn’t vote for them.
Your votes are important. There seems to be an unprecedented number of them. Combine them with the “No Show” voters, and Pheu Thai should rightfully feel embarrassed. But count them as part of the election turnout, and Suthep’s campaign to boycott the election looks like it lost its sting. You wanted to stay out of it, but you might find yourselves in the middle of it.
You are torn between two ideals. On one hand, you wanted to keep the spirit of democracy alive. As much as people talked about this election playing into Thaksin Shinawatra’s hands, you could not find a good substitute for democracy. If the ballot box cannot solve disagreements, no matter how complex or serious, what can?
On the other hand, the rice scheme catastrophe made you cringe. The attempts to ram the amnesty bill through Parliament made you sick to your stomachs. You knew that there would be more of the same of everything if you voted for Pheu Thai. You hate corruption, and some of you have even blown the whistle once or twice.
Of course, you don’t like corruption. Why did you vote “No” in the first place anyway? At least you did not trust Pheu Thai when it came to transparency. Deep down, Pheu Thai didn’t fit your definition of “integrity” despite all the welfare schemes that impressed millions of others and much of the foreign media.
You therefore decided to walk a tightrope. Casting a “No” vote put your conscience at ease. It was not the perfect solution, but you did not believe two wrongs could make a right. And you thought not voting was wrong.
Now, let’s see which “wrong” will manage to co-opt your votes. What is seriously wrong about this world is that all people think they are right. That’s why we have this problem to begin with. If everyone thinks he is wrong, there is remorse, understanding and reconciliation. When everyone thinks he is right, we go to war or try more civilised means – casting votes.
Left with no choices, Suthep will point at the number of your votes and say “See?” To avoid embarrassment, Pheu Thai will do the same. The tug of war with you in the middle will be particularly intense if your votes are numerous enough to tilt either side toward gaining the precious “majority”.
You did the right thing, it has to be emphasised. Only the right thing often has painful or unpleasant consequences. Let it be, you tell yourselves. If good intentions lead to bad results, then so be it.
Here’s what is equally important, though. That you did the right thing does not mean the others were wrong in doing things differently. It’s a tricky concept, but it’s the only way of thinking that will prevent “righteous” thoughts from becoming belligerent.
If everyone is right but is also thinking differently, how are we supposed to solve a problem? Of course, instead of picking up weapons, we vote. We can even vote “No” to all proposed solutions and make the deadlock official. Back to Square One, aren’t we? The bottom line is, we can do whatever we think is right, but we can’t romanticise it too much.
Nobody has written the perfect textbook on anything, including democracy. Your “No” votes may reflect this fact. You may know, deep in your hearts, that our democracy is not only imperfect but also susceptible to abuse. But you didn’t see any other way out. As a result, you have to support the current “democracy” while rejecting its current “guardian”.
Suthep may call you “fair-weather” Thais but he might also be quietly thankful. Pheu Thai may pamper you, but might also sulk behind your backs. You might have wanted to stay out of it, but instead find yourselves in the glaring spotlight of a world you must know as well as anybody is inescapably grey.