When it comes to fierce, honest debates, the clashing of opposing ideas and rousing Churchillian speeches, nobody does it better than the British House of Commons.
On Wednesday, Her Majesty’s government essentially had to make their case for Britain to go to war against the repulsive Islamic State death cult. With the help of 67 Labour MPs, David Cameron, the prime minister, successfully made his case with a clear majority of 174.
However, the most impressive speech in parliament I’ve heard in a long while came from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn. What a delight to see that in this case, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree.
In true Bennite fashion, with punchy prose, fingers waiving and impassioned arguments, it was Hilary Benn who looked most prime ministerial out of an anaemic Labour front bench.
I thoroughly recommend to all students of politics in Thailand to watch the debates, because this is what parliament is supposed to be: An arena for free expression and honest debates on issues of national importance.
In stark contrast to this is the Thai parliament. The quality and style of our parliamentary debates is nothing less than a national embarrassment. And for once, it’s not just the junta’s fault, because this has been true for decades.
Surely, the way we conduct the people’s business in parliament must also be part of the reform agenda, because without it, this circus will continue. But what is definitely the junta’s fault is the fact that they are making things worse. The junta is the cure that is far worse than the disease itself.
Slowly but surely, the myth that an unimpeachable and unelected military dictatorship, accountable to nobody, can rid this country of the scourge of corruption, is being exposed for what it is: A fallacy.
The Rajabhakti Park scandal is now taking on a life of its own. The sole reason why the opponents of the junta have seized this opportunity to go into a feeding frenzy is because they smell blood.
In the Rajabhakti Park fiasco, the junta’s BSE (Blame Somebody Else) strategy simply won’t wash because it was the army itself that had sole ownership of this project. The former army chief and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, as the chief who was responsible for the project, now finds himself in an extremely precarious position.
He has two options. Refuse to resign and stand accused of being an unadulterated hypocrite of the first order, or resign and by default admit that even an army initiated and governed project like Rajabhakti is not immune to the unrelenting curse of corruption.
As a nation, Thailand should also cease and desist in employing the BSE strategy. Laying blame on the “evil” American ambassador for daring to speak out for more freedom of expression in Thailand and putting out a “fatwa” against him, is not going to resolve anything.
I’ve met Glyn Davies, the US ambassador and, like myself, he views our monarchy as an institution that is both beloved and embedded in Thai culture and society. What the ambassador is speaking out against is the counter-productive draconian measures employed to protect our institution.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The Americans are not free from hypocrisy themselves. Ironically, it was the US policy of “containment” against Communism and their subscription to “the domino theory” during the Cold War, that led the US government to prop up the Thai military dictatorships of the past, a terrible legacy we still have to live with today.
But here is my point. There are many forms of love. There is the divisive kind that says I love my country and its institutions and you don’t, therefore you’re an ungrateful little toad. There is also a coddling and suffocating kind of love that says Thailand can’t be exposed to any forms of criticism whatsoever in fear that it might collapse under the weight of reality. This flag-waving, chest-beating, finger-pointing kind of love is the wrong kind of love.
The right kind of love for King and country, in my opinion, is probably very similar to a healthy relationship between a married couple or parents and their children. The kind of love that liberates you, allows you to make mistakes in order that improvements can be made. A love that blossoms with maturity, secure and confident without requiring constant petty reassurances. But most of all, a love that allows for adaptation to changing realities so that one may survive and thrive into the distant future.
Today, Dec 5, is a day of great importance for all Thais. It is His Majesty the King’s birthday. Nobody, not even ultra-royalists, have a monopoly on how to express their love for King and country.
I shall express my gratitude and loyalty in my own small personal way by being a voice for a free, fair and just society, where old established institutions can live in harmony with a more democratic and meritocratic arrangement.
Long live His Majesty the King.
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk