Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Thailand is swerving towards the edge of a moral, political precipice

On Tuesday morning, bombs were lobbed at the Tonson Tower. Fortunately, they were duds. Why this building and why now?

Tonson Tower houses the office of the father of the young gentleman who blew the whistle at the caretaker Finance Minister Kittiratt Na Ranong and asked him why he had not yet resigned. The whistle-blowing occurred three days before the attempted bombing, at a membership sports club where Kittiratt was playing a charity soccer match.

In a repeat of the many previous bomb attacks against protesters and independent agencies the government considers "unsympathetic" (meaning those still sticking to their impartiality and independence under the law), there has been no sign of a reprimand for those in charge of internal security. As usual, we have not had a single word of concern from Yingluck to indicate that she or her government feels the slightest sense of accountability for attacks that have slain innocent bystanders and unarmed protesters. It is official - "accountability" does not exist in the vocabulary of our current governing body.

In Singapore, the minister of transport resigned after the subway trains failed to run on time twice in one week. Such honourable behaviour has no place in Thai politics. If it had, we would have seen the resignation of the entire Cabinet over its disastrous policy failures and barefaced swindling of public funds. On top of that, ours is a government that has repeatedly and intentionally broken several laws and bent every rule that got in its way.

Ultimately, the current caretaker administration provides a stark illustration of what CNN journalist and author Fareed Zakaria calls "The Rise of Illiberal Democracy". Our government believes that winning an election has given it the absolute mandate to act in any way it sees fit, utilising not only double, but multiple standards, when it comes to applying the rule of law to itself.

The public is witnessing increasingly paranoid and contradictory behaviour from the Yingluck administration, exemplified by the actions of the caretaker prime minister and her Pheu Thai Party. One day they insist that everybody must respect the law, bar none. The next day, after the court rules against them, they say the judiciary and the laws should not be used as an instrument to promote divisiveness. One day, their lawyers file cases in the courts; the next day they reject the ruling of the same courts for delivering "anti-government" verdicts. Yingluck is pictured crying one day, laughing the next. She asks for public sympathy, then she turns defiant and reproachful. She cannot decide whether she is a victim or a heroine in the Joan of Arc mould.

Many are asking what the future holds for Thailand. All are shaking their heads, knowing that only a guardian angel could know the answer to the question.

It is not only that we are politically bankrupt, we are morally ruined.

Half-truths are told, animosity and hate nurtured. Obsessive materialism and the glare of greed have dimmed our spirits. The low point of our religious faith came when a Buddhist sect told people that their money could literally buy a space in heaven. A teenager will offer her body to a taxi-driver because she does not have money for the ride home after a night of drinking and drug taking. A son will kill parents for refusing to buy him a fancy mobile phone or banning him from computer game parlours. Our Generation X's demands consist of three essentials - sex, senseless laughter and vulgarity. Rates of HIV/Aids infection are constantly rising, and yet remain the elephant in the room. Children are taught their rights, but their responsibilities are ignored. Self-centred indulgence and misplaced pride kick conscience and shame out of the door. "The only shame is to have none," said French thinker Blaise Pascal, unconsciously foretelling the state of Thailand in 2014.

Gone is our moral compass. This is a grave danger, not only spiritually and morally, but politically. As succinctly put by one of Thailand's most renowned monks, the late Buddhadasa, without a foundation of morality, democracy will inevitably collapse. Without a moral compass, democracy will self-destruct, which has proven to be the case in more than half of the world's "democracies". A glaring recent example is Ukraine. "Every regime in Ukraine since 1991 has ripped off that country," says Stephen Kottin, a professor of History at Princeton. "They ripped off everything that wasn't nailed down and then they ripped off everything that was nailed down. Ukraine gives corruption a bad name."

With our moral compass lost, Thailand has added its bad name to this perversion.

Italian actor Toni Servillo, in a recent interview with the Financial Times about his film "The Great Beauty" and play "Inner Voices" offered a description of Italy that could apply word for word to Thailand.

He said the most interesting theme of the play was how the legitimisation of criminality had become a habit in Italy and one seen as something positive. The result is that moral standards in the country lie in ruins.

The film, he said, is a savage critique of a nation that appears to have mislaid its moral compass.

"And this is how our country is, neurotically focused on today, because it does not know how to regard its past, and cannot see our future."

It is also how Thailand is today, both politically and spiritually - ruined in just a few takes, and sadly, in even fewer acts. ‘The Nation’ Bangkok

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