Getting rid of the government is the easy part
Ask any of the participants in the massive anti-government rallies about their purpose, and the answer is likely to be to get rid of something called "Thaksinocracy". When asked what it means, the answer varies, but may be roughly grouped along these five "cracies".
Autocracy. The state of affairs over the past 12 years that has largely been dictated by one man _ Thaksin Shinawatra. This has happened, although he was prime minister for less than half of that time and the government and members of parliament have come from elections except for a brief period after the 2006 coup d'etat, because three of the five prime ministers since he was ousted by that coup are his nominees and the two who were not must respond to events dictated by him.
He is above the law, for he does not accept any decisions by the judiciary that go against him, saying either that the laws are wrong or the judges used double standards in reaching such decisions. His followers adopt the same stance; most notably, members of parliament have recently refused to accept the decision of the Constitution Court that went against them.
Kleptocracy. Corruption has increased tremendously over the past 12 years. This is perhaps best indicated by the complaint made by the business sector that contractors must pay some 30% of the project costs to secure government contracts. As bad as that might seem, it may actually be only the minimum. If one has a trusted contractor friend, ask him and the answer might be that he must bring cash to an amount of up to 50% of the project cost to secure the signature of the government official in charge of the project.
In the recently concluded parliamentary no-confidence debate, the opposition detailed that the massive rice-pledging scheme was not designed to help low-income rice farmers; rather, it is an operation that is run systematically to benefit the people in power and their friends. The government is run practically by thieves.
Plutocracy. Money is everything. The government is run by moneyed people. Money is the ultimate object of being in power. To secure state power, money is used to buy the loyalty of local strongmen who in turn use money to buy votes for the politicians. Money is used to oil the political movement, particularly under the red-shirt banner. Loyalists are rewarded handsomely by appointments to the lucrative positions of managers, board members and advisers of state-owned enterprises. Even the press is often influenced by government advertisement contracts.
Cronyismocracy. This a newly coined word, for cronyism is rampant. The government machine is run largely by members of the family, relatives and friends of Thaksin, largely for the benefit of this group. Government contracts go largely to them. Their crooked ways have extended well into the ranks of the civil servants, whose sense of right and wrong has been clouded by their wish to move up to higher positions or sharing the spoils.
Populismocracy. Another newly coined word, this represents the new approach in government policies since 2001 when Latin American-style populism was launched by Thaksin. Since then, it has intensified in various shapes and forms. Thais have become readily addicted to free handouts. The last straw that will make Thailand look like one of the Latin American countries is the rice-pledging scheme, which will destroy not only the financial discipline of the government due to massive losses but also the rice quality and its marketing system that has worked well throughout the history of the kingdom.
Ask the protesters about what needs to be done to get rid of Thaksinocracy and the answers rarely go beyond ousting the government headed by his sister. Over a month of massive street protests clearly shows that getting rid of the government is extremely difficult. But that may be a cakewalk compared with what needs to be done to get rid of Thaksinocracy, because four of its five components extended deep roots in Thai society long before Thaksin came to power. Populism may be new, but Thais have become quickly addicted to it. Getting rid of these five "cracies", therefore, may be only a pipe dream.
After the government is chased out, the protesters will go back to their daily routines and the people will expect things to be better overnight. That, of course, will not happen. If they wish to reform Thailand, as the protest leaders say, getting rid of the government is only the beginning. Years of hard work remain and the people should be prepared to take up the challenge.
Sawai Boonma has worked as a development economist for more than two decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former Senior Country Economist at the World Bank and now a freelance writer.
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