US sets an example

The US presidential election last week, which saw the first black American president being re-elected, did more than delight many Thais.

For those who closely watched the tight race that took place within a highly bi-partisan environment, the US election also made Thais reflect on this country's own divisive politics.

Right after the election, the social media networks here were abuzz with comments and debates on whether or not Thai politics could get any closer to what the Americans have agreed to do after a fierce election - that is to concede defeat after the votes are counted, and to move on to begin fighting for their different policies within the political system.

Any bitterness or anger will now have to be swallowed by the supporters of the Republican Party which lost the race, until the next campaign four years from now. This is the beauty of democracy. The system may be imperfect, but it provides for systematic and peaceful change of leadership.

For those who are unhappy with the leader, they have to grin and bear it for only another four years until they cast their votes again.

But in this Land of Smiles, our politics are still hampered by sore losers who prefer to use "short cuts" to power instead of respecting the rules of the game.

This is reflected by the recent call for a coup d'etat by Pitak Siam, a pro-establishment group that has triggered widespread fear of another round of political violence between the pro- and anti-coup camps.

Such fear has prompted some pro-government red shirts to warn their peers not to fall into what they see as a political set-up scheme.

Many Thais want to see both rival camps let bygones be bygones so Thailand can start anew after suffering from protracted political polarisation for almost a decade.

Even those who voted in the Yingluck administration, particularly from the business sector, say openly they do not want to see any more political vengefulness or any "colours"out on the street again. They just want to see more exports, more economic growth, more public infrastructure investment, and other forms of progress.

Some believe political stability means workers and farmers not out on the street protesting, and that political order means all sides cooperate under any leadership.

This belief is only half correct.

Of course, any elected leader should be able to implement his or her policies but there must also be room for civil society _ excluding extremists _ to voice criticism. In a democracy, there must be a platform for justified criticisms of the government or any other institutions, because the supreme power belongs to the people.

The Yingluck government is more recognised internationally than previous governments for this very reason. Her leadership was endorsed through an election. But the Pheu Thai Party's landslide victory is not the reason why there should not be noisy criticism. The government cannot deny that its many policies are problematic and that they still have many pledges to fulfill, including political reconciliation and charter amendment.

Criticism is part of a democratic system. Coups are not.

Yet, the repeated victories of the Thai Rak Thai/Peoples' Power Party/Pheu Thai Party seem inadequate to stop the dream of another coup by the conservative right-wing camp.

This camp refuses to see what the rest of us see, which is that any attempts to provoke a coup or to imply links or moral support from the royal family or members of the Privy Council would only harm the key institutions of this country _ the monarchy and the military.

Coup d'etats are now obsolete. The voice of the people has become a far more decisive factor across much of the world.

The military should also realise that as the sworn guardian of the monarchy, it must not intervene illegally against an elected government to avoid misleading the people into linking the revered institution with the coup.

Of course, this government has yet to act as a standard bearer. But all sides need to ensure that the certain malaise which has appeared in Ms Yingluck's tenure would not be a pretext for the putsch.

The path toward democracy is not an easy one.

Despite the bumps along the way, we have no choice but to resolve the problems within democratic rules.

For the Pheu Thai ruling party, they should not be overconfident of their overwhelming victory in the next election. Some quarters of the red-shirt supporters are now openly expressing disappointment with the Pheu Thai Party for compromising too much.

They are frustrated because it is highly unlikely their call for punishment of the military, which executed the orders of the Abhisit government for the fatal crackdown in April-May 2010, will be met. Their efforts to amend the controversial lese majeste laws have already been thrown out by the Pheu Thai-dominated parliament.

The only thing the Pheu Thai Party is doing vigorously is to take "revenge" against former leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is a symbolic representative of the conservative right-wing forces that were hostile to the Thaksin camp.

The rank-stripping and the singling out of Mr Abhisit for international trial without addressing the core impunity culture in society, particularly within the state security authorities, are just political revenge. Nothing more.

To get out of its political pit, Thailand urgently needs a forward-looking leadership which is dedicated to building confidence and political bridges rather than perpetuating the vicious cycle of political revenge.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Achara Ashayagachat
Position: Senior Reporter