Fanatics make a mockery of our democracy

Fanatics make a mockery of our democracy

Is hegemony an option for a military regime on the verge of establishing a new government?

The political spotlight is no doubt focused on the next cabinet -- who will sit where and what the allocation of cabinet seats will tell about the power of each political party and group.

Against the raucous bargaining, however, a trend has emerged which is worrying for a country seeking to reestablish democracy.

A return to extremism complete with lese majeste accusations, intolerance to different political views and a willingness to bypass justice and fairness for political expediency has prevailed in Thailand's post-election landscape.

Since the far-right conservatives at the helm of the country and their support base seem more intent on beating up the emerging liberalism than to go for an inclusive approach, the prospects are grim for where this round of tussling will end.

There is no doubt that what we have now is half-baked democracy. The Washington Post called it a "crude mockery of democracy". A senator appointed by the military regime recently christened this system of governance as a "democratic dictatorship", an oxymoron that seems to be generally accepted, at least, by supporters of the ruling regime.

There is a flimsy backbone to this regime which seeks to whitewash itself as a democratic government.

Since the regime-backed Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) failed to win a majority of seats in the election, it has been forced to play the coalition politics of the 80s era. This kind of politics not only takes wit and grit to win but it is also extremely ineffectual.

That the coalition leader will enjoy a slim majority while having to deal with more than 20 partners, all of them veterans keen on guarding their own interests, does not make for a strong government.

Indeed, the coalition at present appears more like a loose bundle of friends for benefits, ready to join hands for mutual interest, but who won't lift a finger to cover for other partners. The coalition leading PPRP, and PM Gen Prayut, may well have their hands full just keeping every partner on the same page.

Despite their flimsy intellectual justification and weak governmental position, the regime and its supporters have not backed down from their hard-line approach against critics and opponents.

If anything, extremism and a winner-take-all attitude seem to have prevailed. As if to prop up their lack of legitimacy and feeble political position, the ruling conservatives have reverted to whipping up of far-right sentiment.

A reappearance of lese majeste accusations is always a worrying sign. Last week, a group of about 10 people who claimed to be royalists filed a complaint with police urging them to prosecute Future Forward Party spokeswoman Pannika Wanich for defaming the monarchy based on photos showing "inappropriate manners" during her graduation nine years ago in 2010.

On the same day, a woman who claimed to represent an organisation to protect justice and Buddhism asked the police to probe whether former defence permanent-secretary Gen Preecha Chan-o-cha and his wife Phongphan violated the monarchy by sitting on throne-like chairs during public events.

Critics of the controversial law have pointed out in the past that it should be amended so that it does not allow citizens to file charges against others, as this makes it prone to being used politically. As far-right sentiment becomes a frenzy, anybody who disagrees with the law becomes an enemy as well.

Violence is waiting to erupt.

Authoritarianism has been ramped up as well. When people lambasted members of the committee selecting the 250 senators, some of whom ended up in the Senate themselves, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam basically said the alleged conflict of interest is none of the public's business.

Last week, a French man who made a music video spoofing the junta leader's anthem Returning Happiness to the People was visited by police and "made to apologise".

When photos of trays traditionally arranged with flowers to show appreciation on the annual Teachers Day, but this year adapted to display anti-dictatorship motifs, at a Nong Khai school went viral, police visited the premises and asked students to delete them.

The military regime may believe that dictatorship has carried it this far and its iron fist can still win the day. But the truth is that the regime's new, semi-democratic stance is not a strong one while anti-dictatorship sentiment and diverse liberalism are real and growing.

That means the strife will continue, especially between generations. If the ruling conservatives remain more intent on crushing dissenting opinions than galvanising an inclusive and tolerant society, the road ahead looks grim.


Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.


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