Welcome to Thakland

Amnesty is so last week. It will come back again. But this week is all about the proposed change to the way senators are selected, which down the road could very well lead to a democratic dictatorship of "Thakland".

Currently, there are 150 senators in the upper house, 73 appointed and the rest elected, one from each province. The Pheu Thai Party is set on amending the legislation to increase the number of senators to 200, and all would be elected. And, of course, the families of MPs and former MPs would be eligible to run for senate seats. It wouldn’t be Thai politics without an incestuous orgy. 

In theory, in a democracy, all senators should be elected, just as all members of the House of Representatives  are elected. So why are the Democrats making a big fuss, booing and scuffling, causing pandemonium during parliament session? This is because they worry about the practical realities if the proposed change becomes  law. It may prove a step towards the democratic dictatorship of Thakland. 

Roses in the foyer below the Office of the Constitution Court at the government complex in Chaeng Wattana. With a fully elected Senate, only the charter court will stand between the Thaksin machine and total power, and that can be changed too, says Voranai. (Photo by Surapol Promsaka na sakolnakorn)

With an absolute majority in the lower house, Pheu Thai can bulldoze any legislation through. Standing in the way is the upper house, the Senate, where most appointed senators are assumed to be opponents of anything Thaksin Shinawatra. 

After legislation passes through the House it is sent to the Senate for further scrutiny. The Senate cannot kill a bill, but it can send it back to the House, with recommendations, for another round of debate. If the House insists on passing the bill, then it’s passed. Nonetheless, the senators can indulge in useful delaying tactics, biding time, giving dissenting voice, galvanizing opposition -- and possibly changing the game.

If it is legislated that all senators should be chosen by election, then, given the landscape of the Thai electorates,  it would not be presumptuous to assume the Senate would be filled wives, in-laws, siblings, cousins, girlfriends, mistresses, gigs, roommates and chauffers of members of the Pheu Thai Party, their allies and affiliates. But this would all be democratically legitimate, of course. 

If Pheu Thai dominates both the lower and upper houses, that leaves only the Constitution Court to stand in the way of anything Thaksin. The next challenge is then to sway over the judges to the side of the Thaksin political machine. With that done, then there is no democratic barrier to stand against any legislation Thaksin wants to pass. 

The media can charge, the people can march, but there would be no governing body to act as a proper check and balance mechanism, although this is not to say that realistically there has ever been any in Thai politics. Meanwhile, royal endorsement is merely ceremonial, as befitting a constitutional monarchy. 

We can then term this, democratic dictatorship. What’s more, outside of legislative matters, the Royal Thai Police is already spoken for. And the military is being massaged gently, with nimble, delicate fingers. Big budgets for overpriced, shiny used toys that go boom – when they malfunction – would also help. 

In a few years’ time, with that one other thing, that which we cannot speak of, falling into place, then Thailand could very well become the democratic dictatorship of Thakland. If you’re not familiar with democratic dictatorship, just take a look at a couple of our neighbouring countries. 

Red-shirt demonstrators mock Constitution Court judges during a protest rally outside the court.(Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

This is why there are those who say democracy can wait. Those who say Thailand is not ready for democracy. Those who even want a military coup d'etat. Possibly, given that things did not turn out as planned after the 2006 coup, there are those who would even want a purge after the coup. 

For the anti-Thaksin groups, it is not that they hate democracy. In fact, let’s go out on a limb here and grant the benefit of the doubt that they probably value the ideal and aspire for Thailand to one day become fully democratic. But, of course, there are also many who have outright fascist tendencies, to say the least. 

The problem is yesterday, today and tomorrow they hate Thaksin and fear the possibility of Thakland. They are frustrated that the majority vote is on his side, and hence democracy works in his favour. They simply fear Thakland more than they love democracy.  

But should the possibility of the democratic dictatorship of Thakland, with all that it may entail, be a justifiable reason to set democracy aside, even if temporarily? There are two options here: 

A) Democracy now (somewhat, anyway), Thakland in a bit, if he lives through the decade. 

B) Military coup, democracy perhaps later, maybe, who knows, it’s a toss up, but Thakland never.  

Who says politics is boring? They ought to make a TV series out of this. But then again, in Thakland the content would be considered threatening to national security and be banned. So that’s a sample of living in Thakland of the future. But at the same time, such content would also be banned in the Thailand of old. 

It’s durian and durian, really. Both stink, but can be quite delicious, if you have the taste for it. 

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About the author

Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator