"Democracy" At Work In Thailand -- Bangkok
While we’re waiting anxiously here in Thailand for word that a special session of the House will be called so that its members can vote for a new prime minister, I thought I’d add some background on the political scene here so that readers across the world can have a better understanding of how “democracy” actually works in Thailand.The most recent reports, some of these in daily newspapers no less, about the pending vote and the Pheu Thai party’s efforts to regain power, state that the party has a budget of two billion baht (about $56.3 million) to help convince defecting MPs to return to the fold. Basically, they’re going to try to bribe the defectors to come back to the Pheu Thai party and not support the Democrats, as they have publicly stated they will do. This is democracy at work in Thailand and the more amazing fact is that it can be reported in newspapers without raising a public outcry. This is how politics works here, not to mention the court system and just about everything else you can think of. It goes down to the lowest levels: get stopped by a cop for a routine traffic violation while you’re driving and it costs 100 baht ($3) to drive away. This is Thailand. So the notion that there has ever been a fair election here is absurd. The reason that the powers that be here can’t stand Thaksin Shinawatra is that he has enough money to buy every election. No one with his wealth has ever run for office before. Ever. So he can buy every election and will always win. The poor, uneducated masses in the Northeast part of the country in particular – basically a huge Appalachia – are paid by the village “headman” to vote for the candidate that the headman selects. Of course, his selection is based on who pays him. Thaksin can afford to pay more than anyone and there are way more poor, uneducated people in Thailand than educated ones (only 37% of kids over 14 are in school) so he’s unbeatable. That’s why there was a coup in 2006. It was the only way to get him out of office and keep him from raping the country any more than he and his cronies already had. At some point I’ll explain the Suvarnabhumi airport scandals and tell you how $800 million dollars went into people’s pockets along with other assorted case of malfeasance but I digress. The only problem with the coup, other than the fact that the coup leaders proved to incompetent (although well-meaning) political leaders, is that when the first election was held post-coup on December 23, 2007, Thaksin’s supporters, under the guise of the People’s Power Party, won again. And the recent judgment against the PPP, Chart Thai and Matchimathipataya parties on December 2 was a result of this election. All three parties were judged to be guilty of election fraud, i.e., buying votes, and were ordered to be disbanded with all party executives banned from politics from five years. Thus was born the Pheu Thai party as it rose from the ashes of the PPP just as the PPP rose from the ashes of Thaksin’s original party, Thai Rak Thai which he formed in 1999. Thai Rak Thai was convicted by the courts on May 31, 2007 of election fraud (for you know what) and was ordered disbanded with all of its executives banned for five years. Are you starting to see a pattern here? So now the Pheu Thai party, the last remnants of Thaksin’s loyalists, is trying to buy votes again but now they’re trying to buy their fellow lawmakers, not the general public. I suppose it doesn’t matter to them. After all, buying votes is buying votes and when that’s the only way that you can win any kind of election then that’s what you do. Democracy in Thailand? Maybe in 100 years or so, but for now, forget it. We can only hope that from now on the political parties have roughly equivalent amounts of cash to play with, as it always was in the past, so that one of them can never be as dominant as Thaksin was. Then, at least, there will be some balance to the political hierarchy and compromises will have to be made among the parties. That’s the best “democracy” that we can hope for in the present situation.