Thai mirrors

November 6, 2006

Funny thing, Thai politics. Our former leader, Thaksin, was unceremoniously and undemocratically booted out because those behind the coup knew that if elections were to take place he would win comfortably. Thaksin himself had been rightly accused of eroding democracy by muzzling the press and failing to respect the rights of anyone suspected of being involved in drugs or Muslim extremist inspired insurrection. None of which worried the vast majority of rural Thais who voted for him. But once the King had made it clear he was fed up with Thaskin and supported the coup, everyone is happy with the generals and no one wants Thaksin back. What they want back even less is a return to the old corrupt democratic regimes offered by the alternatives to Thaskin. One Thai commentator suggested a way forward. Why, he said was there corruption under the old regimes? Because politicians had to pay people to support them. And where did they get the money to pay their supporters? By dipping into major construction projects and the like. And their supporters had to pay their supporters in turn. And how did they augment their income  to pay them? By dipping into some less major projects. So it’s not surprising that the road to our village still hasn’t been built and the main Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai highway cracks up every time it rains.  And what was the answer proposed? To get the King to appoint some trustworthy politicians to form the government who wouldn’t then have to pay anybody to support them. Not surprisingly, the idea met with the approval of 100% of the Thais I have it discussed it with. So it’s not surprising that the international community’s call for a ‘swift return to democratic government’ doesn’t carry much resonance here. Is it democracy when a people democratically decide not to be governed democratically? Nobody is under any illusions as to what would happen were the old politicians to return. As the speaker of the Thai parliament put it in 1996: “The budget is like a popsicle that is passed around. Everyone gets a lick at it when it comes their way , so that by the time the one at the end gets it, there’s little left.” Democratic elections aren’t the answer. As The Economist commented in 1996 , “Elections … often produce the best government money can buy, rather than a good one.” And not just in Thailand.

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