Quick-fix political remedies set us back years

Quick-fix political remedies set us back years

News media described it as a "shock", an "upset" and a "political earthquake" among other things. Few, if any, predicted it or expected it. But alas, the seemingly invincible populist regime with the mass working class as its support base is defeated in the national election. The victor? An opposition that's historically backed by the traditional establishment and urban elite.

Why did the ruling regime lose? Pundits point to the corruption and cronyism scandals that dogged the government.

In an alternate reality the above paragraph could describe Thailand, four years ago. But no, the Democrat Party did not defeat the Puea Thai Party. In fact, powerful elements with ties to the Democrats, namely Suthep Thaugsuban and his cohorts, worked hard to dismantle the election. In Thailand, the establishment and urban elite did not have patience for democracy. They preferred the quick fix of armoured tanks.

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

In fact, the first paragraph of this commentary described Malaysia. Last week, we saw the seemingly all-powerful Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled the country since it became independent in 1957, fall to the opposition led by 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad. In the previous year, Dr Mahathir, who was the long-time leader of Barisan Nasional, came out of retirement and switched camps to the opposition.

Across social media, netizens around the world congratulated Malaysia. Here's an example of how the democratic process triumphs and how the votes of the people can affect change. This is the way to fight corruption and cronyism. Meanwhile, four years ago in Thailand, a powerful minority welcomed tanks as the solution to, so they say, the problems of corruption and cronyism.

And so, today we end up with a junta leader busying himself in taking selfies with TV stars and a girl group, and leading dance and exercise classes. All the while delaying a return to democracy until he can be most certain that a sizeable chunk of the millions of die-hard fans of said TV stars and the girl group would possibly give him their votes.

Perhaps they would because he's no longer the mean, grumpy old man, but is now a cuddly, old uncle. This new version of the junta leader likes to dress up in traditional anime costumes, is in tune with pop culture and has adopted cutesy K-pop-esque body language. For example, pointing the index finger to his cheek and smiling for the camera, with head slightly tilted. As we Thais say, "very ah-noh-nae" -- and we Thais love all things "ah-no-nae" -- it's a kinky national obsession. Whoever is advising the junta leader on this latest image campaign deserves applause, or a spank.

This is on top of the national tour he's on, visiting provincial political strongholds and making nice with regional godfathers and their supporters, promising budgets coming their way, a very Thaksin Shinawatra thing to do.

It has been four years since the coup that was meant to, or so they say, get rid of corruption and cronyism. But corruption and cronyism stay with us still.

Whether Malaysia's election results will prove positive for the country is neither here nor there in this discussion. Pertinent is the democratic system that affords a political balance where power can shift and a vote of the people can truly effect change.

There's no such thing as a perfect comparison, and the political situation in Malaysia and Thailand obviously aren't one and the same. However, it is beneficial to learn from political lessons anywhere in the world, rather than to simply dismiss them as inapplicable, simply because they are foreign.

If those who cheered the May 22, 2014 military coup against the embittered Yingluck Shinawatra-led Pheu Thai government had faith in the rule of law (flawed though it may be) and had trust in the democratic process (despite its many shortcomings); if they had let the judicial process handle the rice-scheme corruption and allowed the blanket amnesty bill time to induce nausea of national proportions: come election time perhaps the words shock, upset and political earthquake may indeed describe the results.

Or perhaps not, as Dr Mahathir surely was a key factor in the Malaysian election. It would tantamount to Thaksin returning from exile to lead the Democrats to election victory. Alternate reality is one thing. Pure fantasy is another.

Be that as it may, the issue that matter mosts here is: one nation chose to stick with democracy, and democracy eventually led to a power change as decided by the people. Meanwhile, the other nation has a historic penchant for the quick fix in order to instigate a power change. It's a different kind of political earthquake, one caused by tanks marching through urban concrete.

The lesson therefore is that the quick fix -- two coups and counting to get rid of Thaksin and his political power -- has turned out to be a long detour into dictatorship land. Twenty years ago, would anyone have imagined that one day Myanmar would be a democracy while Thailand was still a military dictatorship? It's a bizarre world indeed -- news headlines including the words shock, upset and a political earthquake also apply here.

We should learn the lessons from Malaysia and from our own history. Because we wanted a quick fix, we so willingly gave away our liberty. By the time it's given back, if it's ever given back, it would be stained like used toilet paper.

Of course this is upsetting, but one shouldn't be shocked by it.

Voranai Vanijaka

Bangkok Post columnist

Voranai Vanijaka is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

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