Thai army still region's top usurper
In less than a month, we have witnessed two intriguing -- or one could say diametrically opposite -- political events.
One has just been resolved into a more-or-less peaceful transfer of power. The inauguration of Joe Biden as the US's 46th president has brought the country and its democracy back from the brink of annihilation instigated by his narcissistic predecessor.
Next door to Thailand, a group of generals has just dragged Myanmar back to a time in the past. A developing democracy has been crushed in the blink of an eye, and a military dictatorship has returned.
Immediately, social media became abuzz with observations about the similarities between political developments in Myanmar and Thailand.
In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) Party constantly kept winning national elections -- in landslide fashion, no less. In Thailand, Pheu Thai and its previous incarnations did the same.
This is intolerable. The military and establishment in either country just can't seem to be able to win a political war legitimately, so they resorted to one thing they know best, using force to get their way.
In this regard, the Thai military is the more experienced. They have, after all, achieved a world record for having for staging at least 13 coups in the nation's modern history.
Thai generals are pretty clever, too. They keep getting better at rewriting the constitution, the last one of which has managed to tie up Thai politics in a gridlock, which is not totally a bad thing as it allows the military a convenient excuse to prolong its stay in power.
Even if recent protests by students have put pressure on parliament to begin the process of amending the constitution, the ruling parties will ensure that the process drags on for as long as possible or until retired-general Prayut Chan-o-cha completes his term as prime minister.
There are valuable lessons for the Myanmar Tatmadaw to learn from their Thai brethren. It appears they have started to pick up lessons quickly. The first thing they told the Myanmar people was that they would return democracy to the country in a year. This must sound very familiar to the Thai people.
But a more valuable lesson they should learn is the art of writing a constitution. The Tatmadaw wrote the current one used in the last two elections but the results have not been satisfactory. The Thais call it sia khong -- product wasted.
What they need is a more pliable election commission and various "independent" organisations that could lend legitimacy to whatever actions they need to bend an election to their advantage and keep them in power for as long as they wish. We have a constitution drafting guru, who is presently available to lend a hand.
The problems that may concern a military dictatorship are a popular uprising and the economy.
It appears that, statistically, countries with dictatorial regimes do not perform well economically because not many countries like to trade with dictatorships.
After a while, economic deterioration could become fuel to spur the fire of public discontent and bring the people out into the streets. The military could employ forceful tactics to quell the opposition, but this is a slippery slope that could plunge the country into an uncontrollable situation and worsen economic conditions.
Admittedly the scenario described above may not happen, especially since no one wants to face soldiers' guns. People realise that peaceful protests are rarely able to dislodge intransigent and brutal military dictatorships that are prepared to turn their weapons against them. But they also don't want to recklessly instigate harsh military response.
That does not mean we have to sit on our hands and keep quiet. There are ways for people to chip away at a dictatorship's strengths, using creativity and persistence. In that way, decay will set in among the establishment and in time the dictatorship will fall of its own weight.
So, people must maintain hope and have faith while being vigilant and persistent enough to look out for opportunities to weaken a dictatorship.
I've found two passages that may help to keep our hopes up, and I say this to democracy fighters in both Myanmar and Thailand.
One is taken from a banner from the Black Lives Matter movement, originally penned by a Greek poet, and it says: "They tried to bury us but they didn't know we were seeds."
Another is from a poem recited by Amanda Gorman, a young black poet laureate, at Joe Biden's inauguration, and it goes thus:
"We've seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it.
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.
And this effort very nearly succeeded.
But while democracy can be periodically delayed,
it can never be permanently defeated.
In this truth,
in this faith we trust."