Laughin’ Just to Keep from Cryin’ (The Contradictions of Thai Democracy)

One of the more frustrating aspects of dealing with the people who deal with Thai politics in both the traditional and the new media is the tendency to simultaneously acknowledge and deny certain undeniable truths about Thai politics.

1) Everyone agrees Thailand has never been a democracy. This never stops people from claiming that the most recent coup has destroyed… yep, you guessed it… Thai democracy.

2)Everyone knows that “Thai-style democracy”, in one variant or another, has been what passes for democracy in Thailand for decades. This never stops anyone from sarcastically pointing out that the new constitution whenever it finally gets enacted will only return Thailand to “Thai-style democracy”.

3)Everyone knows that constitutions in Thailand have not only very limited lifespans but equally limited effect on how Thailand is actually administered. This never stops people from foaming on and on about the pernicious effects on Thai democracy (see above) that the upcoming constitution will inevitably have.

4) Everyone knows that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Barking this sententious cliche never stops the barker from failing to list the 1000-plus citizens murdered by state-sanctioned death squads when they do the ‘Lest we forget’ number concerning the Octobers and the Mays from Thai history.

5)Everyone knows that the Prime Minister who ordered the death squads is the de facto leader of the party that is likely to win the election that everyone sees as the first step toward “restoring Thai democracy” (see above). This never stops anyone from insisting that to repeatedly recall the history of his crimes against humanity is to indirectly support the Junta.

6)Everyone knows that the Junta and its twisting of vocabulary and its denial of history is Orwellian. (See above)

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9 thoughts on “Laughin’ Just to Keep from Cryin’ (The Contradictions of Thai Democracy)

  1. Juan Manuel October 9, 2015 / 9:56 pm

    Do you prefer a miitary dictatorship ruling by force to a democratically elected government for Thailand ? Are you for democracy or against democracy in Thailand ? Your postings are so ambiguous ! It is crystal clear that the military Junta and the Royalist establishment are the worst enemies of democracy. Your fatalism and hypocritical “even-handedness” is an indirect way to endorse those anti-democratic forces that have robbed the Thai people of their rights and freedoms

  2. mjw51 October 9, 2015 / 11:15 pm

    I think my postings are quite clear. It is the Thai political reality that is ambiguous.

    I am in favor of a liberal democratic government for Thailand. I don’t believe, and I can’t imagine anyone who knows anything about Thailand believes, that any Thai election has ever resulted in what we mean when we say “a democratic government”.

    Elected governments that have to hand over control of major elements of the national budget to the direct control of the military, that are subject to legislative control by corrupt judiciaries, that are either unwilling or unable or some combination of the two to attempt to govern the country as though they were in fact the elected representatives of a sovereign electorate are in no way shape or form democratic governments.

    Pretending that they are, or even worse, pretending that the PT-UDD combination represents a movement in the direction of liberal democracy in Thailand is to throw your support behind nothing more or less than what has long been called “Thai-style democracy”.

    There is nothing “hypocritical” about my approach to Thai politics. If I had the vote here, I would have voted for Thaksinite political parties in every election that he has run in, although my loathing for Samak would have made that election the most difficult for me, having to have held my nose over the stink of the dead from October 6th.

    I would not, however, insult anyone’s intelligence by pretending that any of those governments have come anywhere close to being liberal democratic in nature.

    Are they elected? Yes.

    Is that preferable to coup-installed or even “legitimately” negotiated military-backed governments? Yes.

    But it isn’t democracy and the benefits that we believe flow to a society that is governed by law and representative democracy do not flow therefrom.

    The Thai state has developed a rhythmic, almost tidal alternation between “Thai-style democracy” and military dictatorships that rationalize their illegal seizure of control by promising to improve “Thai-style democracy”.

    Obviously this most recent Junta is the most repressive and authoritarian we have seen in Thailand since the 70s. I have difficulty, however, with the tendency of people like yourself to therefore wave their hands in the air and try to obscure the human rights abuses, the extrajudicial executions and the media intimidation that characterized the first two TRT administrations (which in my opinion were in the best position in the history of Thai governance to actually govern in a liberal- democratic manner and due to the authoritarian wishes of a strongman elected PM chose to subvert that opportunity).

    You think the royalist-military elites are the worst enemies of democracy in Thailand. If you equate elections with democracy, then I suppose that would clearly be the case. The problem with that of course is that elections do NOT equal democracy.

    I think that people who insist over and over that once you have elected a government you have democracy are an even more insidious enemy of democracy. At best these people are a primary reason that Thailand can never move beyond “Thai-style democracy”; at worst they are apologists for the kind of majoritarian thuggishness that is the result of the Thaksinite belief that being elected puts a government above the law.

    • Juan Manuel October 10, 2015 / 3:46 am

      I am no Thaksin supporter, but we must give him the merit to have been the only Thai politician after Pridi who really cared about the poor and the downtrodden in the vast rural areas of the North and Northeast. Maybe he did it for self-serving reasons, but it was Thaksin who empowered the traditionally enslaved rural poor, ignored and despised by the Feudalist monarchy , the military and bureaucratic elites, and the privileged and selfish Bangkokian middle class.
      We may rebuke Thaksin’s corruption, authoritarianism and lack of respect for human rights. But the Royalists and their yellow dogs are no less corrupt, authoritarian and criminal. And at the end of the day the worst democratically- elected government will be always better than the best self-appointed military and royally-endorsed tyranny. If you have doubts about this then your democratic commitment is really weak and flawed. Down with the Junta ! The sooner, the better for Thailand

  3. mjw51 October 10, 2015 / 9:18 am

    “And at the end of the day the worst democratically- elected government will be always better than the best self-appointed military and royally-endorsed tyranny.”

    Does this mean that you agree that by virtue of being elected “democratically-elected” governments are therefore above the law?

    And like many people who appear to endorse this position your commitment to rule of law and equality before the law seems to be either weak or non-existent.

    Do you think that democracy exists where elected governments and other organs of the state are not constrained by law?

  4. Juan Manuel October 10, 2015 / 3:03 pm

    Democracy can never exist under an absolute monarchy and a permanent military control. Thailand should get rid both of the Feudalist, reactionary monarchy and of its murderous army. Let us hope that a Thai Democratic Republic will be born soon to end the tragedy of the long and wasted (edited) decades. And to hell article 112

    • mjw51 October 10, 2015 / 3:39 pm

      So, you really can’t answer those rather simple questions?

      “Does this mean that you agree that by virtue of being elected “democratically-elected” governments are therefore above the law?

      Do you think that democracy exists where elected governments and other organs of the state are not constrained by law?”

      If all you intend to do here is sloganeer and wave a flag, please go to New Mandala. They specialize in avoiding rational discussion of such questions.

      • Juan Manuel October 10, 2015 / 9:25 pm

        Ok, keep enjoying Prayudh’s enlightened rule !

  5. mjw51 October 11, 2015 / 10:20 am

    What a surprise.

    As is the case with so many of these “fervent” democracy supporters, not really interested in anything but slogans and calling down the tyrants.

    Poor old democracy. With friends like these….

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