Thailand Rejected the Old Ways
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Thailand Rejected the Old Ways


APLN member Kasit Piromya writes on Thai politics and points out that a clear majority of Thais turned their backs on traditional, conservative thinking and embraced a new generation of politicians in last month’s polls. He argues that now is the time for establishment elements to let go and allow the forces of change to take hold – for the betterment of everyone in Thai society. Read the original article here.

While some of its neighbours have discarded authoritarianism and military rule to become successful democracies, Thailand has since 1932 been struggling to transform itself from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one within a democratic setting.

The current constitution, introduced in 2017 by the military junta, turned Thailand into a quasi-democracy. A move towards liberal democracy has not occurred because nobody in power has ventured out of their bubble to talk to other important players in Thai society.

Thailand has had many constitutions, the contents of which usually reflect the desires and aspirations of whoever was in power at the time. In short, all past and present constitutions have been of the elites’ making. Only the 1997 constitution was considered to be of the people, as its drafters came from many walks of life. By contrast, two dozen personalities appointed by the leaders of 2014’s coup drafted 2017’s constitution, which was implemented under the purview and direction of the junta – with Thailand’s 250-member military-appointed Senate containing six serving generals from the armed forces and the police.

At any one time, various institutions or entities with a stake in Thai society have coexisted while holding different ideas about how democracy should look in the country, yet there has still been suspicion and distrust.

There has also been a remarkable lack of communication with the public. Before crafting a new constitution, one would have expected a coup leader or sitting prime minister to have invited all major stakeholders to discuss and form a consensus on the nature and direction of democracy in the kingdom.

Given the results of the national election on May 14, a likely coalition government forming under the Move Forward Party’s leadership has stated clearly and firmly that Thailand is to have a new constitution that is truly democratic in nature. Hopefully, the incoming government will hold extensive consultations to find a consensus that is acceptable to all sides.

The journey towards such a consensus will not be easy. Traditionalists, royalists, and conservatives continue to constitute sizeable portions of Thai society. The civilian bureaucracy, accustomed to being at the centre of administrative power, would prefer not to relinquish its authority and prerogatives. The military establishment is preoccupied with national security and clings to the belief that it is the defender of the three jewels of nationhood; religious belief and traditions; and the monarchy – while ignoring the modern and democratic concept that the military must be subject to civilian rule and play no role in politics.

Furthermore, many segments of Thai society continue to feel that the military establishment is the counterforce to anybody or any movement that would harm or has negative intentions towards the nation’s aforementioned jewels. Unlike citizens of other countries that have successfully transitioned to democracy, Thai people do not share a common belief that their will is sovereign and that true power in the country ultimately lies with them. As a result, there is no widely accepted notion that they do not need to rely on institutions like the military to ensure Thailand’s stability, security, prosperity and progress.

The results of this year’s election clearly demonstrated most Thais’ desire for positive change, namely a move towards unimpeded democracy. The overwhelming majority of the 39.5 million voters who turned out visibly rejected traditional and conservative thinking and practice, and showed that these no longer have a place in Thai politics. With 38 per cent voting for the Move Forward Party and almost 29 per cent voting for Pheu Thai, Thailand’s voters collectively turned their backs on the old-school politics of money peddling, cronyism, and patronage. They have plainly stated that there is no place for the military establishment in Thai politics and that the people can take care of themselves in a democratic setting.

In this context, how much and how far the Move Forward Party and its coalition partners will be able to pursue their objectives and realise Thailand’s democratic transformation remains to be seen. Hopefully, the new coalition government will have the will, vision, and humility to consult all major players and reach a consensus to move Thailand forward. There will need to be a spirit of compromise, but with a common, non-negotiable objective of making Thailand truly democratic.

At the same time, this author hopes that the election losers – pro-military elements, ultraconservatives and traditionalists – realise that they can no longer hold on to the old ways. They have to let go and allow the forces of change to take hold, for the betterment and democratic advancement of Thai politics.

The conservative group of political players and vested interests, largely formed of older politicians, could help further the democratisation of Thailand by not being entrenched, revengeful, or recalcitrant. The time is right for the older generation to make way for the new generation to take over the ship of state. This new generation, meanwhile, must be magnanimous in victory by reaching out and asking for advice. Everyone in Thai society has a duty and responsibility to work for the common good in order to make it truly democratic.

Image: Pita Limjaroenrat (centre, white shirt) leader of the Move Forward Party, waves to supporters in Bangkok following his party’s election victory last month. Photo: AP

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