For those of you who are in Thailand, you might know already that there will be two large demonstrations tonight in Bangkok. These are the groups who have been confronting each other for more than three years now regarding their differences about which way Thailand should be going. Those who have any vaguest idea of what is going on in Thailand know that the confrontations have been centered around Thaksin Shinawatra. One group, led by media mogul Sonthi Limthongkul, wanted to get him out of office and tried for a number of corruption charges. The other wanted him to continue as Prime Minister.
The coup d’etat on September 2006 changed the picture somewhat, as Thaksin was indeed kicked out out of office through sheer force (though no actual force was used) and a new military-installed government took power and a new constitution drafted. After about a year Thais had their general election and during this time the Thai Rak Thai party, which was led by Thaksin, was disbanded and the entire bunch of party executives were barred from entering politics for five years. The election resulted in an ally of the Thai Rak Thai (some say it is actually a reincarnation – a very Buddhist concept) coming to power, and since the well known names had already been banned from politics, what we have as ministers are some lesser figures who would not have held the minister portfolio otherwise.
The key issue here is that the 2007 constitution has a very strict rule against those who abuse power in politics. And because of this the People’s Power Party (Thai Rak Thai’s possible reincarnation mentioned earlier) itself stands a good chance of being dissolved too. So the demonstrations tonight will be essentially about this issue. The anti-Thaksin group wants to stop the amendment of the constitution, and the other, pro-government group, want to support it.
So you can see the general picture somewhat, I hope. As this is a “mostly about Buddhism” blog, I don’t want to become involved too much in politics here. So I am not taking sides. What I would like to say is that I see this as a symptom of “growing pains,” so to speak, of a real and meaningful democracy. I may be an optimist, but then all Buddhists are 🙂 . This shows growing pains because in a real democracy conflicts are to be expected, and here in Thailand we are experiencing a real conflict between large segments of the population taking place. In the old days this could be settled by civil wars, but I really hope that things will not turn out that bad. This is why democracy is so necessary and important.
Democracy is necessary as a means of resolving conflicts without violent means. This much is obvious. One who has followed Thai politics for some time might say “But this is already a democracy. We have elections and Thaksin turned out to be duly elected. What is wrong with it?” Well, what is wrong is that it appeared that Thaksin tried to bend the law for his own purposes. A democracy has to be backed up by a strong legal system, so that when one tries to gain unfair advantages the law would prevent that from happening. More specifically there has to be a boundary beyond which even democratically elected government cannot cross. This is a persistent theme in political philosophy. Should there be a limit to the power of a democracy?
No, I am not condoning coup d’etats by any means. This is why I am talking about growing pains of Thai politics. The conflict that is happening now, if handled carefully, will mature into some kind of normal diversity of opinions in a functioning democracy. Both groups who are demonstrating have their own visions of what they want Thailand to become. The diversity could then sort itself out in the normal kind of democratic choice. The problem in Thailand for so long is that this diversity has been kept under the carpet, and those who have the real say in how the country is governed are the bureaucrats and technicians who think that they know more and better than the ordinary people.
So there will be some kinds of conflicts for a time being, and let us hope that there will be no violence. Perhaps Thais are mature enough not to let that happen. Perhaps they will learn from this experience so that they develop strong constitutional and legal framework so as to restrain abuse of the democratic and populist power. This is the key and unless this is in place the growing pains will continue to haunt Thailand for a considerable time to come.