Losing the plot

1 02 2014

PPT has usually read Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University with considerable interest and sympathy. This time, however, he seems to have lost his way in his op-ed at the New York Times.

Yes, sure, the political deadlock “is crippling the country,” but every commentator has said this.

But his commentary gets weak when he refers to “reset options that have worked in past times of crisis — a royal intervention or a military coup — do not appear to be in the offing.”

This is an odd perspective. The military coup has generally been about re-establishing the status quo ante, not “resetting.” And the king’s interventions have been about that, sometimes via shocking crackdown and sometimes to prevent a catastrophic loss by the elite. This latter scenario occurred in 1992 and whike his “moral authority” might be unrivaled, it is not unchallenged.

That “there have been no signs so far that he might intervene” should not surprise a student of politics, where a non-intervention is also a statement of position and intent.

After a couple of hundred words describing the general situation, Thitinan concludes that: “The only way forward for Thailand is to hold reforms in order to strike a more viable balance between the majority and the minority.”

What’s the evidence for deciding this? Apparently, the “Yingluck [Shinawatra] administration has deployed its unassailable parliamentary majority to ram through disastrous policies, such as an amnesty bill that would have absolved Thaksin of corruption charges.”

ThitinanDid it? This is an exaggeration. The government did this in the case of the lower house, but it responded to public pressure and withdrew the bill from the upper house. That is the way a parliamentary democracy usually works. It is an example of parliament functioning, not of dysfunction.

When Thitinan opines, like the anti-democrats, that “electoral winners cannot do as they please after scoring at the ballot box,” he should be applauding the success of the opposition to the dumb amnesty bill. He should also acknowledge that governments are elected on a platform, and it is their duty to implement that platform. The Yingluck government has repeatedly backed away from this duty in the name of compromise. In this sense, its supporters, the majority, can rightly complain that their wishes are ignored.

His claim that:

Rather than trying to seize power without regard for the will of the majority of Thai people who elected Ms. Yingluck, Mr. Suthep and the P.D.R.C. must make concrete demands and propose an actionable agenda on good governance that is acceptable to other parties. And the Yingluck government must address those grievances, by making political reforms a top national priority.

This is a nonsense. For a start, Suthep’s lot are about bringing down the government, and they offer no compromise. One might also ask why it is that reform is so desperately needed when all of the basic rules were set by the military and anti-democrat allies when they drew up the new rules of the 2007 constitution. That they keep wanting to change the rules doesn’t amount to reform. Rather it is about sour grapes, elite control and re-establishing the subordinate position of voters who seem to challenge them.


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