Yingluck departure must not be wasted

opinion May 14, 2014 00:00

By Tulsathit Taptim

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So, what's new, really? Yingluck Shinawatra is gone as prime minister, but it's not as though she had been functional as the government leader for the past few months anyway. It reminds us of the fate of Samak Sundaravej, Somchai Wongsawat and, to a certa

Again, Thailand’s judiciary has been hailed by some and ridiculed by others. It reminds us of those times when political parties were dissolved and when Samak and Somchai lost their jobs. Traffic remains held up by political demonstrators. Remember the People’s Alliance for Democracy and the red shirts? Last but not least, Thais are still scolding one another online as they did three, four or five years ago.
The latest developments have “vicious circle” written all over them. Or not quite, as both optimists and pessimists will tell us. The Shinawatras have been further weakened, but tension “between the colours” could still erupt into something worse. On the bright side, people from both camps have been learning as they go and must have become smarter. 
All this prompts one question: should we be fearful or hopeful?
Some say that only through clashes between destructive forces will something new be created. Whether Thailand has come to that point – where a big change is on the horizon – will be determined by what kind of reform the country goes through. If it is reform that caters to politicians, as usual, we are guaranteed a journey back to Square 1.
Why do we always need to have charters as thick as dictionaries? It’s because our “reforms” have always focused on rules governing politicians, rather than an effort to instil, establish, preserve and foster noble values. When that happens – when reforms are mostly about rules – people look at the Constitution not for inspiration but for loopholes.
Our politicians search endlessly for loopholes to defend themselves or attack their enemies. That’s mainly what Thailand’s charters have been all about. Rich business people look for loopholes so they can play politics and enhance their private interests. When no loopholes can be found, they resort to claiming that the enforcement of the laws is tinged with prejudice. And that’s probably true. When political fights are all about loopholes, everyone can be right, but at the expense of justice and real progress.
Nowhere in South Korea’s Constitution is it stipulated that a leader has to resign if a ferry sinks with massive loss of life. But somewhere in the Constitution, or national psyche, there must be something that tells or teaches South Koreans about honesty, integrity and responsibility, or about the shame of using those three words for dishonest, malicious or irresponsible purposes. There must be something that teaches the South Koreans that politics can be played up to a point, after which the “playing” must give way to pure conscience.
Thailand’s Constitution preceding the 2006 coup was always said to be one of the country’s best. But if it was designed to prevent corruption, protect a democratically elected government and guard against enemies of democracy, it failed on all accounts. If the rules were good, then the blame must fall on the people who applied them or were governed by them. And if that’s the case, what’s gone wrong in Thailand must be that we are a country rich in rules but devoid of values.
A “crossroads”, as far as Thailand is concerned, is not a spot to choose between two new paths. In the Thai context, it means choosing between going forward or going back to the vicious circle. For future “reform” to have any chance, it must focus on the people, not the politicians. The latter have proved to be good only at distorting values, not fostering them.
Many see it as a chicken-and-egg situation. If the people are bad, good Constitutions don’t matter. On the other hand, if Constitutions are bad, how can we expect the people to be good? To escape this vicious circle, “political reform” has to transcend how we elect a prime minister and how a corrupt prime minister should be punished. The reform should not “impose” democracy but “teach” it. Reform must make corruption something of which people are “ashamed”, not just a “crime” that is harmless as long as one does not get caught.
For too long we have been chasing our tails. Neither democracy nor a clampdown on corruption can take us forward. Values have been distorted beyond recognition. Ideals have been blatantly abused or used selectively. Reform that can change all that won’t be easy, but it will be something new. Most of all, it will make sense of what Thais of all “colours” have had to endure over the past decade.