Moving forward with a vision for Thailand

Moving forward with a vision for Thailand

A new chapter for Thailand’s political culture is being written to achieve a democracy ‘for the people, and by the people’. Thanarak Khunton
A new chapter for Thailand’s political culture is being written to achieve a democracy ‘for the people, and by the people’. Thanarak Khunton

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has on many occasions talked to the public about his vision for Thailand, entitled “Stability, Prosperity and Sustainability”. He has taken the time to listen and speak to people from all walks of life about the future direction for the country. In light of this as well as the comprehensive reforms that are currently under way, it is only fitting that as citizens, we take some time to reflect on how the country can move forward.

We are mindful of the notion that Thailand is undergoing a period of fundamental transition in political development. It is useful for us to think about the experience of other countries and how their paths of major reform and transition share some commonalities with ours. 

I believe that it is important as Thai citizens to do what we can to understand this vision in order to participate and contribute to it as we shape our common future and come together with a common purpose.

In articulating “Stability Prosperity and Sustainability”, the prime minister has underscored that the country must be first be stable and secure in order to be able to sustain a new level of prosperity that can be enjoyed by all. This will then serve as the basis for a sustainable democratic system in Thailand.

It is important to touch upon a few prevalent comments about what this vision may entail for the Thai people.

At first glance, some may have the impression that this is an ambitious agenda for Thailand, given how its comprehensive nature is an enormous task for a reform government. However, before we are able to consider whether how far it can be realised, it is important to look back to what brought about this vision and the commitment to this ideal.

As the saying goes "to know where you are going, you must know where you have been".

The events that unfolded before 22 May, 2014 saw a spiraling situation of political violence with no clear end in sight. While Thailand has been through episodes of political crises before, many observers have argued that this time was different. Thai society was on the brink. Never before had friends and family members been so engulfed in such entrenched political division that bonds of affection broke down and casual dialogue would often end in quarrels at home, at work, and even in places of worship.

What’s more, it was evident that the groups in conflict were adamant about not finding common ground. Instead they were set on continuing to harm each other. It was a winner takes all approach that was getting out of control and leading to permanent damage for Thailand. From this viewpoint, what was needed was a way to manage the conflict, not only a way to find a settlement for the parties in dispute. What was needed was not an accommodation of interests of various political groups or catering to their immediate demands. That would not resolve the problem. We had to look deeper and tackle the problem at its source. An attempt had to be made to actually resolve the conflicts, not just settle them for the time being.

In this sense, “Stability, Prosperity and Sustainability” is a genuine attempt to resolve these conflicts by laying down foundations for Thailand so that these issues can be continuously addressed for future generations. That is why it is ambitious, why it is comprehensive in trying to address all issues partly addressed by previous governments, why it is necessary, and why it will demand the best out of us as citizens of this country.

The root causes of the political conflict in Thailand was not just about interests of certain groups, but stemmed from a variety of political, economic, social and historical issues. Resolving these issues will take time, but it is essential to prevent further violence and intense rivalry so that a more peaceful political environment will be conducive to a conflict resolution process.

Many can recall that there was a time Thai society was being held together by a deeper appreciation for national unity based on our national heritage. It was a time when we were able to agree to disagree, a time when civility prevailed even though there were differences in opinion. To be able to return to that, a moment of pause was necessary to reset our direction for improved stability.

No one will disagree with the logic that before any substantive reform in society can take place, there must be a degree of peacefulness and calm. But this sense of peace and calm should be based on genuine reconciliation, first brought about by rebuilding trust and confidence in society.

In consideration of the many opposing views in Thai society, ranging from grassroots concerns to urban and upper income priorities, it was necessary to find a common link so that we can all move forward as a nation. And to find that link, Thai people needed to know that coexisting was possible, particularly by being able to cooperate with one another in a number of social activities.

In this sense we can recall how the first phase of the reconciliation measures since May of last year were designed to prevent further violence, protect innocent people, restore public safety, de-escalate political tensions, and remove extreme colour-coded politics.

As such, public events were organised to create “breathing space” between opposing sides, so they could re-establish a level of trust and working relationships through "functional cooperation" or cooperative activity.

The key point is that reconciliation is an ongoing process and, in the immediate phase, it was not about getting all the opposing sides to come and agree on everything. It was about re-establishing civility in disagreement to reinforce peaceful coexistence, which is the basis for subsequent comprehensive reform.

Perhaps what needs to be emphasised at this juncture is that the Thai people now have the opportunity join in and propose what they think about the country’s political future such as fundamental rights, electoral systems, enumeration of legislative powers, equal access, equal opportunities, and rule of law — all the things that were suspended due to political crises in the past.

In many ways, now is the time to come together to set the foundations for a stronger Thailand. This will also mean creating a new level of prosperity based on a more sensible and balanced model of economic development, not reckless growth like before. And it will most certainly mean revamping social norms so that Thai society can break free from the shackles of corruption that have seriously plagued our country, particularly in this generation.

While we are not under the assumption that endemic corruption will be completely removed from Thailand in such a short period, we must strengthen the institutions that counter and check corruption. The point is that these common goals will not be possible if we do not have a sense of common purpose underscored with a vision that truly reflects and reinforces our ideals for government by consent, justice and equal opportunities.

In coming together to shape our future, we must also learn from the lessons from international history in terms of democracy, governance and civil society.

We know the importance of a government and indeed a democracy “for the people, and by the people”. That is why I can say that with this vision, Thailand is not fundamentally retreating from democracy. We are strengthening our democratic institutions to prevent outright abuses of democracy in the past. We know we cannot cure all the injustices in society but we can make sure that we create a fair and dependable system. It is this government’s priority to take care of all of our citizens, and not just the majority like has happened in the past.

In the context of writing a new chapter for Thailand’s political culture, what cannot be tolerated are representatives who do not respect the rule of law and disregard the judicial process. Indeed, democracy is more than elections and must be based on respect for the rule of law. It must be about good governance, transparency, accountability and equal access to justice.

As Thailand undergoes this new and testing period in our political history, we are mindful of the experiences and the histories of other countries and friends. We are aware of the Reform Act of 1832 in Britain and how long that took but after much debate and discussion.

We are aware of the French Revolution and how ultimately, it was the political will of the people to overcome injustice, poverty and misery, and that exploitation of the poor is unacceptable.

We are aware of the civil rights campaign in the United States and those who fought and gave the ultimate sacrifice for equality and to protect the ideals of civic duty and good citizenship. And we are aware of the reconstruction of Germany, Japan, and other countries, that how after a period of sustained conflict and crisis, there can emerge a new generation of thinkers and leaders who will not give up on the possibility of achieving our common ideals for a better and decent life shared by all.

Like many other countries that have gone through a period of national reform before us, now it is time for Thailand to go through our own challenges to develop and build a sustainable democracy. With this knowledge, we move forward with a vision for Thailand, by the Thai people.

Captain (Ret) Dr Yongyuth Mayalarp, Spokesperson to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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