English | Thai  

NOV 2007 - FEB 2008

Chaturon Chaisang

Former Deputy Leader,
Thai Rak Thai
A Study of Equality and Representation

by Chaturon Chaisang
Politics affects people. In any democratic country, the livelihood and lifestyle of its peoples are invariably affected by the policies of the government they have voted into power. But because of the political turmoil the past year, investor activity in Thailand has been especially erratic, aggravating the economy and financially affecting people all over the country. At the same time, social needs have been neglected.

At first, some people were afraid that the Surayud government would be too active, doing things that were not their mandate – work that was supposed to be done by an elected government. They were told not to do too many things, and to solve necessary and urgent matters only during this transition period. But after one year, we find that the government didn’t do anything. It seems they went to the other extreme and didn’t initiate any new policies, any new projects.

The political system is still not democratic by any means. Martial law remains in force in several provinces and people do not feel comfortable about complaining to the authorities when they see problems. Fourteen months after the coup, Thailand is still being governed by a small group of people, rather than by elected representatives of the majority, and this elite group is able to write laws at whim. Therefore, the basic tenet of democracy – equality – has not been respected.

Under the present system, you cannot expect equality because you cannot expect that the common people will have equal rights to the people in power. The system will not be dynamic, responsive to people’s demands, and so the problems of people will not be resolved.

After the coup, many members of the Thai media were pleased and said that they would now have more freedom than they had experienced under the Thaksin regime, but has that really been true? Members of the Thai media, soon after the coup, were invited to a mass meeting chaired by the CNS. They were asked to please not give too much attention in their reportage to what Thaksin and the ex-members of the TRT were doing. Is that freedom of the press?

There have now been 18 coups in Thailand since the end of World War II, but the one last year, on September 19, was Thailand's first non-constitutional change of government in 15 years. And now we have a new constitution that stands to institutionalize a sytem which is not a real democratic one.

What we all need to do now is to try our best. We expect that any coalition government after the election would be weak and unstable, and in turn slow to respond effectively to the demands of the people – it will not find it easy to solve any difficulties. When problems arise again in the future, all the blame will be placed upon political parties, the government, politicians. Is there not, then, the risk of yet another coup? The idea that democracy in Thailand needs a time of intermission – to take a step backwards in order to go forwards – has been proven wrong over and over again.

Once a new government is formed after the December 23 elections, I believe that we need to start the process immediately thereafter to draw up a better constitution than the one we have now. A constitution that will be decided upon by a democratically elected, government appointed body – a government that will have been chosen by the people of Thailand. It is the working people of Thailand who pay the taxes used by the government to pay its officials, so the people should have some control.

It is true, indeed, that an elected government should have a system in place to solve any problems that arise within the country, and the government should be given the opportunity to deal with them. If the people don’t like what the government has done, then when the next election comes around, the people can decide to let it go. And choose a new one.

If we believe in democracy, we need to let the system solve the problems. The weak point of the Thai people, is that they don’t understand and give priority to systems. People say that the Thaksin regime had the appearance of a democracy, but the essence of dictatorship. After the coup, they said the government was dictatorial in appearance but democratic in essence. I believe in both cases, they are wrong.

We cannot compare the two systems, they are too different. A person cannot merely give points: 75 points for this system, 25 points for that system. It is a matter of right and wrong, backwards and forwards. We are talking about a system that people all over the world condemn. This is a case of an advanced system vs. a bakwards one, a bad system.

For example: When you want to grow plants, you need sunlight. If there is no sunlight, you cannot grow vegetables. But during the day, sometimes there are some clouds and you say that during the day, it is so cloudy, so many obstacles…it is terrible, not a good day for the plants to grow, and if this happens often, the plants will not grow very well.

But if there is a place behind a big tree, a mountain, then it is like night, like moonlight. There is light, but still nighttime. You cannot just say that during the day, it is cloudy, so it is too bad. But during the night, even if the moonlight is very bright, this is not enough for the plants to grow, it’s still nighttime.

Many Americans say that they cannot tolerate the Bush administration because of the war in Iraq: People are dying, and the government is losing money because of the war. Large numbers of innocent people die everyday in Iraq, but do you hear the Americans say that they cannot tolerate the Bush administration and therefore need to have a revolution? What do they do? They wait until the next election. How long have they felt this way, this unhappy, with that administration? Two to three years, so why did they wait? Wasn’t there a lot more casualty there than in Thailand’?

On the other hand, a lot of Americans think the US must fight in Iraq, they cannot let the country to be ruled by an extreme Muslim that would lead to a larger casualty within the country and beyond its borders. What would happen if the next US president decided not to get involved in Iraq, would those people say, well, we have to get rid of that president? It is the same with the citizens in the UK: Many British people dislike Tony Blair’s policies. A lot of people say he was unreasonable, did the people say let’s get rid of government?

Who should ultimately decide on the makeup of the government? If a group of senators cannot tolerate the Prime Minister anymore, or the Military, or the Academics, because of his privatization policy, or his social policy, should they be able to get rid of him by any cost, by any means?

In a democratic system, everyone has equal rights, and a system is developed to protect that equality. The government cannot be changed by a minority. If too many people are allowed to think this way, they will have to change the government very often through undemocratic means. Because in the future there will be a lot of issues that people can have different opinions on: There will be a lot of situations where people will feel that they cannot stand this, cannot tolerate things, they cannot allow this or that to happen.

Do you agree that whenever they feel this way, they can allow the military to take over? Then there will be a coup often, forever. The country will be run by the military forever, and the country will be ruled by power, by might, rather than by a mandate from people, rather than law or legitimacy. In a democracy, you cannot allow a group of people to be superior to others, have more privilege than others.

We must have respect for the people. They have more common sense than we give them credit for. If a political party were to say, “We will give one million baht to every family if we win the election”, and it is legal to say that, would the people vote for a party like that? People are more reasonable, people have more capabilities than that. They would ask: What about the projects, the roads, and the healthcare?” The people have more common sense than that. They would know that it can’t be done. •