26 April 2006

On the Thai elections

Thaksin Shinawatra generates some sympathy fawning from some normally critical local bloggers. It's not easy to see why: he was on the verge of a long historical project to turn the kingdom into a benevolently authoritarian one-party state, replacing unproductive party politics with pragmatic, technocratic business sense, and instituting some control over the nation's independent media. What's there to hate in people who sincerely want to imitate your country?

So newspapers here were the only ones caught out of the loop. Local reporters were fawning and predicting 2006 will be Thailand's 1966, that the decision of the oppposition parties to boycott the election undo them and propel Thaksin's ascension to legal and legitimate one-party rule. That's a national blind spot for you, but surely they should've rmembered that when history actually repeats itself, the second time is always a farce?

What they did not count on (the national blind spot!) was the constitution of Thailand, which was written to prevent precisely these travesties from occuring. In constituencies with a walkover, the unopposed candidate is not confirmed unless 20% of the voters turn up to vote for him anyway. Voters are also given the choice to cast a "no vote", essentially a vote for "none of the above" that in sufficient numbers will invalidate the winner of the election. These are safeguards that prevent the country from sliding into a one-party state with a fake opposition.

Today, Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej gives the best sign that Singapore should be the one emulating Thailand instead. Speaking out at the "complete mess" that Thaksin's snap elections caused, the monarch commented strongly: "The current election is undemocratic. Where there is only one candidate it is not considered a democracy."

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the true senior statesman of Asia.


locky2ky said...

Thailand has a true statesman but we've God!

Anonymous said...

What we have is the true elder conman of Asia

rench00 said...

but what do you think of the thinking that, in Thailand, the majority (who are mostly farmers) votes in Thaksin, but the minority (of city-dwellers in Bangkok) removes him? do you think that that is democratic?

do you think that having a small, vocal minority can force a democratically elected president out of power by demonstrations and protests which forced the capital to come to a standstill, do you think that that is democratic?

what do you think of what some of the anti-Thaksin city-dwelling demonstrators say about the farmers (that they are ignorant and hence their opinions should not count for anything)? do you think that a person who is more educated should have more say about who is in office than someone who is illiterate (and perhaps more gullible) and thus votes based on who promises him more short term benefits?

akikonomu said...

Do you think it was a legal move by Thaksin to call for new elections in the face of a possible investigation and censure motion? Is that how the processes of a constitutional democracy should be subverted?

Rench, we've been through this before on MSN, in case you forgot. The urban citizens easily contributes more than 80% of Thailand's GNP. Thaksin has been diverting their income to "invest" (i.e. run pork barrel projects) in the rural hinterland during the recession; while that makes the rural poor richer, it certainly did nothing for the urban middle class. Do you think what Thaksin did should be protested against? Do you think the urban citizens should be angry, and allowed to display their displeasure?

As far as I know, the urban population in Bangkok isn't a small, vocal minority - it constitutes 31% of the population. Show some respect, please.

Do you think that because some idea is popular, it is correct? Or because some person is popular, he must be doing things right? Why did you ask me about educated people receiving more votes than illiterate people? I certainly did not say anything like that here, and you insult me by asking that question.f

Anonymous said...

Hehe, the PAP indoctrination in Rench is showing.

rench00 said...

when i ask questions, most of the times, they are questions, not statements discussed as rhetorical questions. i.e. i asked them without having already taken a stance, but rather just out of the desire to find out the person's response.

and yes, we have been through this on MSN. but i felt it does merit looking at again, perhaps at a more public forum (such as this).

with regards to the fact that urban dwellers make up 31% of the population. even if that were the case, that does not give them the power to demand the resignation of a democratically elected office bearer, unless the electoral process is flawed (in which case, they should have made noise then...). they do have the right to protest to have elections to rightly remove Thaksin from power. regardless of the numbers, i feel that having any group protest to remove an office-bearer who has been elected according to the laws spelled out by the country's constitution is wrong. it makes a mockery of the democratic process.

and no... i don't think that doing something that is popular makes it right. on the contrary, there are times when it is the unpopular policy that is right but the 'illiterate'/'ill-informed' might not see it that way, hence my question about whether the more educated, more well-informed should be given more votes as they are the ones who might see the long term benefits. but of course, there are lots of arguments against that (not least because that sounds too far to the right, even for someone like me...)

finally, about investing to make the rural poor richer. some would say that that's a good thing. that it narrows the rich poor divide and hence is a strategically sound idea.

so, my questions are not to insinuate that you have any particular sentiments, nor do they indicate that i have taken a particular stance. they are honest questions. if i want to make a statement, i will make a statement.

it is precisely because i don't wish to succumb to indoctrination (from whoever) that i ask questions.

i feel maligned that my genuine intentions of asking questions so as to have a discussion caused such a reaction.


akikonomu said...

Whether you make up 30%, 5%, 80% of the population, you still have the right to protest and the freedom to demand the resignation of the premier. Whether he heeds the call is entirely his prerogative, of course.

Get your facts straight first: what type of election system does Thailand have? Do people elect their office-bearers? No one elects their office-bearers in a Parliamentary system.

Should the minority call for Prime Minister's resignation? Even though his party did win the last elections, they feel he should not be allowed to remain in office due to an unethical but legal business deal. In other countries with a two-party system, the MPs would've called for a censure motion. In countries with a weak opposition, why shouldn't the people protest?

Dissolving parliament and calling for snap elections to avoid an impeachment would be the real mockery of the democratic process.

About the more educated/informed voters scenario: I think it's the onus of the parties and their candidates to get their message out and communicate to the people? And it's the responsibility of the people to talk more to each other as well. A healthy polity depends on a healthy civil society - you can never avoid making mistakes (eg choosing Bush over Gore) in the long run, but to create a system that can survive mistakes and see them as such.

I'm a socialist, so I do believe in helping out the rural poor. However, Thaksin's plans benefited only them, while the middle class in the cities continued to shrink during the same period. Without benefits trickling down to them, the middle class must feel that Thaksinomics is the Thai Great Leap Forward.

That he tried over the past 2 years to gag critics in the media and academia is something that would incense the cities, but not the countryside. That he attempted to present a deal (Prosperity for some rights) appealed to the countryside but not the cities. Tolerable living in cities require those two conditions. Perhaps instead of asking whether any minority has a right to complain, we could ask why Thaksin couldn't govern more justly and equitablly.

rench00 said...

i agree that Thaksin could and should have govern more freely. and yes, i concede that no democracy directly elects their office bearers (except perhaps here in Singapore where we are supposed to be allowed to elect the President...).

however, the question is that the TRT did win the majority of the votes in the last elections and hence supposedly has the mandate of the people. having a less than majority group protest to abrogate this mandate is, in my opinion, against the idea of democracy.

now of course 2 wrongs don't make a right. the calling of snap elections to avoid impeachment by parliament is indeed a sneaky tactic. but i wouldn't say that it is entirely illegal. it just gives the people the decision to decide whether TRT (and hence Thaksin) should stay in power, which is what democracy is, letting the people decide.

now the Thai courts are deciding whether to declare the snap elections null and void and call for new elections. that, i believe would be accepted as legal, since it is ordered by the courts (acting on instructions of the King). in those elections, it is likely that TRT (and hence Thaksin) return to power. would the protesting Bangkok urban dwellers accept that decision made by the people? or would they continue to protest? if they continue to protest, then is what they do democratic? or would they be making a mockery of the democratic process? i personally feel that if indeed the Bangkok urban dwellers refuse to accept the results of the newly called elections (if TRT and Thaksin wins), then they would be completely undemocratic.

the question now would be, if Thaksin gets back into power, would he govern more justly? or would he take the opportunity to further silence his critics?

a side point. i got the impression that the Thai economy did unpredentedly well under Thaksin's rule and that on the whole, the Thais benefitted economically under Thaksin. am i mistaken?

my final point about Thailand. hypothetical situation, if Thaksin, after being elected, instead of benefitting the rural poor, had benefitted the middle class in Bangkok, and left the rural poor to rot and die, would the urban Bangkok dwellers still protest for his resignation? are the urban Bangkok people really that concerned about whether Thaksin is just? and if the rural poor then protest against Thaksin, what would the Bangkok dwellers do? (and these are again honest quesitons).

now to the more educated/less informed case: so are you saying that a functioning democracy is only possible where people are at the level where they are interested and have the capacity to find out about the various parties, discuss with one another about politics, etc? i believe that that is the case. in places like India, where most people are illiterate and access to information is so limited (such that even if people are interested, they can't find out), then it seems that a properly functioning democracy can hardly happen. and what if really, you have a country where there are areas where access to information is really limited and people are really illiterate that civil society is close to non-existent and in the same country where civil society is vibrant (e.g. Thailand...) should the region of the country where civil society is thriving get more votes than those regions where there are only farmers who are illiterate and don't have access to information and are not well-informed of the political process?

the point of my questioning in my comment(s) is not to pass judgement but to look at the issue from different angles. i apologise if i came across as if i am passing judgement on what you have said. i am not. i respect your views, just that i want to explore other possible perspectives and possibilities.

akikonomu said...

"TRT did win the majority of the votes in the last elections and hence supposedly has the mandate of the people."

Here's a bit of comparative politics: who uses the "mandate" concept outside of Singapore? The Americans (notably GW!) use "political capital", which you can spend, and theoretically run out of.

I think it's a uniquely Singaporean political philosophy that once a party is elected, it has a mandate (even if its support isn't unanimous) to do anything it wants as long as it's not illegal, and that protests against this is a subversion of democracy. You are free to show where else people subscribe to this idea, I'm an anthropologist and these things fascinate me.

More familiar is the idea that citizens demand accontability from their elected representatives and are expected to call for their ousters and resignations when significant mistakes are seen to be made. Outside Singapore, that is what people think a democracy should function.

"Are you saying that a functioning democracy is only possible where people are at the level where they are interested and have the capacity to find out about the various parties, discuss with one another about politics, etc? i believe that that is the case."

So we do agree on the most important thing! The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

rench00 said...

i still disagree that groups of people can call for the resignation of a president or any party that has been elected. i agree though that groups of people, if they can show enough reason, can call for an election to determine whether the party/office bearer (if we are talking about governors and/or mayors) should be ousted. and should the elections turn out results contrary to what the group originally wanted, then democracy would demand that that group accede to the decision of the majority of the voters.

of course there are problems with that system. but it seems to be the best system in place.

and yes, the price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilence.