Saturday, January 24, 2015

Thailand remains on treacherous grounds

Yingluck's impeachment resolves nothing in terms of democracy's future

What’s next for Thailand? The recurring question arises once again following yesterday's political developments. Whether Yingluck Shinawatra was to be impeached or not mattered little because Thailand was facing an extremely tough situation either way.

The issue of corruption versus democracy has always been the crux of our political crisis, leading to coups, street violence and parliamentary turmoil.

The interim legislature's impeachment ruling, what preceded it and what its consequences will be are all part of a national conflict over which should come first - unobstructed democracy or corruption-free politics.

Thaksin Shinawatra let his then-spouse buy a government-auctioned property. His sister Yingluck supervised a rice price-pledging scheme that triggered a storm of warnings and led to countless controversial practices. But they both won democratic elections in landslides.

Do the Ratchadapisek land scandal and the damage caused by the rice fiasco pale in comparison with coups and the suspension of democracy? Let's set aside that debate for the moment. If we are to let bygones be bygones, we will remember that Thai democracy has never been truly sound, the result of many factors both controllable and uncontrollable.

"Unconstitutional power", a term mooted a long time ago by Thaksin, appears to be uncontrollable. We can't do anything about it if the military keeps seizing power, so to speak.

Let's forget about finding ways to punish coup-makers. We can't prevent them from barging through the doors, but we certainly can avoid giving them an excuse for doing so. Opportunistic men in uniform might be "uncontrollable", but there are controllable factors determining the health of our democracy.

If politics were clean and accountable, there would be one less pretext for a coup. Street protests might be aimed at actually safeguarding the wellbeing of the people rather than feeding political ambition.

How can we end the vicious cycle of coups, corruption and uprisings? Advocates of democracy must stop blaming others - many of them uncontrollable - and start reforming it. The best shield against "uncontrollable" opportunism would be a clean and honest government that doesn't hesitate to remove a minister at the slightest hint of scandal, that puts the right persons in the right jobs, that shows responsibility when policies fail, and that shuns vested interests and nepotism.

Is it within our control to have that kind of governments? Yes, it is.

It's up to the next civilian government to achieve this goal.

A corrupt government, or one that's focused primarily on denigrating its opponents, would only take the country back to Square One, no matter how clean the election or how large its margin of victory.

Democracy must serve honestly, transparently and empathetically - lest dictatorship step in to serve in its stead. It must show that it can do the job better in terms of efficiency and accountability.

An old Thai adage assures us that good people who fall into turbulent water will never be swept away, that those engulfed by fire will never be burned.

Surely the same applies to true democracy, no matter how roiled the current or how hot the flame.

The Nation

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