Fine balancing act away from tyranny

In the past, Thailand's politics has been defined by minority rule and minority rights. When asked about the wishes of the majority, the minority would snicker, ''Tsk-tsk, dah-ling, they'll do as they are told.''

In the present, we are moving towards majority rule and majority rights. About the minority, the majority snarls, ''Suffer homies, boo-yah!''

Tyranny is tyranny, of the minority or of the majority. But in reality, Thailand is more likely moving into the tyranny of one person. Guess who?

Instead, what we should strive for is a balance of democracy where there's both majority rule and minority rights. The turning points might be, first the minority's show of power to force Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to stand down from the blanket amnesty bill (at least for now), and second, the Constitution Court's striking down the all-elected senate bill.

Let's look at the terms minority and majority more closely.

In the 2011 general election, the Pheu Thai Party received 15,744,190 votes (48.41% of the total), while the Democrat Party received 11,433,762 votes (35.15%). The difference is 4,310,428 votes.

This is not exactly an overwhelming majority against a small ruling clique of elites, as the fairytale goes. The fact is, Pheu Thai did not even win a majority of the overall vote. But for the sake of discussion, we shall continue to use the term majority. We shall leave coalition partners out of this, because they will go wherever the money is. Political conviction has nothing to do with it.

So, if the 15 million are to rule, then don't the 11 million also deserve their rights?

There are those who will have you believe that in a democracy the majority gets to dictate everything. But they don't understand the context of place and time. They cannot comprehend culture and history. They are clueless about human nature and political character. They don't even realise the true processes of democracy because they ignore the reality of circumstance.

They only know the textbook version of democracy, and presented with anything that might deviate from the theory due to factors mentioned above, their brains simply come to a halt. Be very mindful of biting into the combo platter of ignorance and self righteousness; it is diarrhoea-inducing.

The reality of circumstance is that in Thailand, the tyranny of the minority is being corrected, but we are in danger of sliding down towards the tyranny of the majority, if not the tyranny of one.

The Constitution Court has made questionable decisions in the past, and possibly will do so in the future. The appointment of the judges is itself controversial, and their political leanings are a subject of debate. But their striking down of the all-elected senate bill was democratically correct and politically wise.

The ruling not only prevents the tyranny of the majority, but more importantly the tyranny of one: Thaksin Shinawatra. To understand this is to look beyond the tips of our noses, to see the big picture and the long term.

Pheu Thai is striking back by announcing it will seek the impeachment of the court judges and file complaints against them for alleged malfeasance in office and for committing lese majeste in rejecting the amendment draft.

To seek impeachment and file complaints is fine, if they believe the court has committed an injustice. There is a good argument that it has, in fact. But to bring up lese majeste charges is proof that rule by the majority may be no better than by those they called ultra-royalist fascists and abusers of human rights. It is a hypocritical example of the tyranny of the majority, or of one.

In the past I've written that in a true democracy, all senators should be elected. This is still true today, and will be true always.

However, Thailand is no true democracy, although that is what we should work at becoming one day.

We are an 80-year-old country with a fragile, infantile democratic system and a huge baggage of feudalism, with our history often interrupted by military regimes. The past decade is short compared to 80 years of confused identity, and even shorter compared to centuries of feudal traditions.

But in this short span of time, there have been rapid changes, not least of which is the people waking up and realising their power. But if power can corrupt an individual, if power can corrupt the minority, then just as certain as the white on jasmine rice, power can corrupt the majority.

So we seek the transition of Thailand, step by step, while nurturing the balance of power. This is especially relevant with respect to the provision of the all-elected senate bill that would have allowed families of MPs and former MPs to stand for senate election. We don't want a family affair in politics.

In this period of transition, we should not go from a wrong in the past into another wrong in the future. Don't get stuck in fairytales. At the popular level, the difference is 15 million and 11 million. At the topmost level, the difference is a small clique of old, feudal elites and a small clique of new capitalist elites. This is the reality _ democracy is but a tool.

Furthermore, the Constitution Court ruling was politically astute as it also serves to prevent chaos in the streets, by stopping short of a decision to ban the Pheu Thai Party. But let's not forget, if someone intends for there to be chaos in the streets, no court decision can prevent it.

Thailand has a long way to go. One day we may have an all-elected senate. But today is not that day.

More important is to be mindful that the country doesn't slide into the tyranny of the majority, which in reality is but the tyranny of one person. Nor should Thailand revert back to the tyranny of the minority.

We must find that balance of power, majority rule and minority rights.


Contact Voranai Vanijaka via email at voranaiv@bangkokpost.co.th.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Voranai Vanijaka
Position: Political and Social Commentator