Key elements of Thai democracy are anything but healthy
With another major political protest looming – this time by supporters of the embattled Yingluck caretaker government – there are arguments for and against the idea of giving Thai democracy a rest of one or two years. However, as well as the question of whether genuine reform or even reconciliation could occur in such a short period in a fair and transparent manner, there is another issue to ponder. It concerns Thailand’s two biggest political parties and whether they are properly equipped to lumber on under the existing circumstances.
The answer is a resounding “no”. This is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why democracy should take a vacation in this country. The Pheu Thai and Democrat parties are undeniably in bad shape. They are well-loved by their own halves of the populace, but the feelings they evoke in the opposite half go far beyond dislike. They are both hated and distrusted by millions, making it virtually impossible for either one to form a representative government as things stand.
Of course, democracy is all about winning the hearts of voters and making them “hate” your opponents in the process. In Thailand, however, this process has been taken to an extreme, and for years it hasn’t mattered who holds state or democratic powers. If a “break” is necessary to craft true national reform, it must also be used to allow the two parties to bring the love and hatred down to normal levels.
Along with the love-hate issue, the two major parties are crippled in terms of manpower. Pheu Thai is so bound up with the Shinawatras that it would collapse without them. The family is the reason why the party is so loved and hated. With the Shinawatras a target of fierce, relentless political attacks, what should Pheu Thai do? Maybe the party needs time to figure that out.
As for the Democrats, many senior members are leading street protests. Suthep Thaugsuban, more popular now than party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, will not and cannot “rejoin” the party and its future quest for parliamentary power. Abhisit is still relatively young and his public support is sizeable, but the crisis rattling Yingluck Shinawatra does not change the fact that his leadership of the Democrats has always been seriously challenged.
Should the Democrats reconsider who leads them? What roles could the likes of Surin Pitsuwan, Supachai Panitchpakdi or even Jurin Laksanavisit play? Again, a “break” would allow Thailand’s oldest party to think long and hard about these questions.
And the above are merely the political aspects. There are also serious legal aspects facing the Shinawatras, Suthep and Abhisit. Those who advocate a non-stop continuance of democracy will have to take into account all the legal issues. The question of how Parliament and government can function with so many of their key figures hounded by legal action is a legitimate one, no matter which side of the political divide you are on.
After all, democracy should be healthy, yet it’s anything but healthy under the present circumstances. The people within the system are just as important as the system itself. There is no system so ideal that it can make incapacitated players look good. This is why the players need time to get in shape, so that if things go wrong again in the future, at least we would know exactly what and who to blame. Only when that happens will Thai politics be a game worth playing.