April 16, 2014 00:00
By Tulsathit Taptim
The Ko Tee video has spread like wildfire through the cyber-sphere, but it wasn't born of a single, isolated spark or by accident. His outrageous remarks are a "consequence" rather than a "cause". Any other nation would, by now, be exhausted dealing
Corruption breeds individuals like Ko Tee. He is just like the street blockades. He’s the same as the burning of luxury malls. The hatred spewed in the widely shared clip of his speech and in many other political statements have one thing in common: they are all consequences, not causes.
Ko Tee took his cue and the nation predictably entered knee-jerk mode. He has provoked intense anger and the caretaker government, which he supports, has vowed to take action against him. The red shirts are distancing themselves from his “personal opinions”. The Democrats are doing their best to associate him with the Pheu Thai Party.
Once again, some are on the front foot while others desperately pedal backwards. Again, the country is obsessed – but at the same time fascinated perhaps. Certainly, another fire has broken out amid the political crisis, accompanied by the familiar wailing sirens of a moralising bandwagon. But this is just the latest flare-up.
We have avoided tackling the root of the problem – corruption – and as a result have to keep dealing, awkwardly, with its consequences and repercussions. We try to be righteous when people get killed, or when politically incorrect comments are made against, for example, the prime minister. How can we escape hypocrisy under these circumstances? How can we preach ethical behaviour if we are simultaneously side-stepping one of the most immoral aspects of society?
Let’s imagine a Thailand without corruption. How easy would it be to take care of street mobs hell-bent on overthrowing a democratically elected administration? In other words, how difficult would it be to muster anti-government mass rallies if the taxes had been paid, the Ratchadapisek land had not been bought, the rice scheme had been clean, and charter amendments had not been so contradictory (promoting a “People’s Parliament” with one hand and taking away its power to counter-balance the government with the other)?
Corruption-free politics would have taken the military out of the equation. You can claim that it was the 2006 coup that kick-started Thailand’s slide down the slippery slope, but then you must ask what “pretext” the armed forces used in ousting Thaksin Shinawatra. In other words: Was the coup really a cause, or was it just a consequence?
Should Thailand “get over” Thaksin?
Yes and No.
Yes, because it’s a huge mistake to assume that putting him away would equal eradication of graft, and because singling him out is corrupt in itself. No, because he spawns the popular idea that corruption might be acceptable under some circumstances, such as when it involves someone who repeatedly wins “democratic” elections.
As long as we refuse confront the root cause, the rearguard battles against Ko Tee and the likes will continue. Corruption begins as a small seed with limitless potential for growth. Allow it to become a big tree and it is extremely tricky to cut down or even contain. The tree may flourish and bear “innocent” leaves. It may serve as a sanctuary for many living creatures, who come to depend on it for shelter and food.
If that small seed is allowed to grow, a big mess is almost guaranteed. We can’t fault the protesters out on the streets. We can’t point an accusing finger at the military for causing our misery. It’s true that two wrongs never make a right, but it’s also true that one wrong can lead to many more wrongs.
Ko Tee is controversial, but take away corruption and he would be a lot easier to deal with. Blocking a democratic election is controversial, but how come something so scandalous is supported by millions? Is Thai democracy in tatters? If so, what has caused the setback? It’s too simplistic to say a large proportion of the Thai population are authoritarian sour-losers rejecting a previously agreed system at the expense of the country’s long-term future.
People say democracy can handle corruption. The truth is, it’s the other way round. And that may even be an understatement. Corruption can consume democracy, starting by bending a few rules here and writing new ones there. It doesn’t make people “cross the line” consciously, but moves the line far behind them while they are asleep.
The greatest trick corruption has ever pulled, though, is making the people who defend it believe they are doing the right thing. This sleight of hand is achieved by getting everyone to focus on the “consequences”, and convincing them that a genuine debate on the cause will get them nowhere.