Analysis: Tyranny of a minority
Analysis: Tyranny of a minority
In other civilised countries, provocation and occupation of the seat of government would bring swift enforcement of the law. The PAD’s revolting rampage has been met with tame official responses.
By Thitinan Pongsudhirak
(The writer is Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University.)
Over the past three years, Thai politics has degenerated from the tyranny of a majority under former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to that of a minority led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
Prior to the military coup in September 2006, Mr Thaksin exploited his Thai Rak Thai party’s electoral successes to abuse power and monopolise political outcomes, reaping rents and rewards for businesses of his family and associates and lining pockets of his cronies. But now his erstwhile opponents have abused their unelected power from a different direction, holding the entire country hostage to their demands and revealing their distrust and disdain for the majority of the electorate.
The ongoing political crisis took a turn for the worst on August 26 when PAD demonstrators moved from their regular street protests to arbitrarily take over a state TV station, several ministries and Government House. They resorted to physical force by breaching and tearing down the fences and walls of these state agencies, and have since encamped at Government House. These unlawful efforts were an unprecedented provocation.
In other civilised countries, such a provocation and occupation of the seat of government would have been met with a swift and complete enforcement of the law to regain the state properties. Instead, the PAD’s revolting rampage has been met with tamed official responses. Even at Makkhawan Bridge in an old and historic area of Bangkok where altercations between the authorities and protesters ensued following a police attempt to dismantle the three-months-old protest site, injuries were limited. More protesters were injured when they marched and confronted police at the gates of the Metropolitan Police Bureau. Stationed inside the gates with the PAD crowds massing outside, the police reportedly deployed several tear gas canisters.
The adverse public reactions to the authorities over these scuffles are understandable. State-perpetrated violence against the people is deeply etched in the Thai psyche, imprinted by the military’s gruesome suppression of university students in October 1976 and middle-class demonstrators in May 1992. Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s role in the October 1976 suppression also constrains him from being seen as trigger-happy. As a result, Mr Samak has allowed the PAD to rule the streets and illegally occupy Government House.
In addition, as the PAD bullies its way in a unilateral and anti-democratic effort to bring closure on the Samak government, its many sceptics and critics are cowed into silence. Dissent against the PAD brings personal attacks and character assassinations.
Yet this is the time for those myriad Thais – the silent majority – who never liked Mr Thaksin then and despise Mr Samak now – to come out and condemn the PAD’s blatant hijacking of Thailand’s democratic system. They lack the PAD’s voice, vehicle and organisation, but they must find a way to speak out. The white ribbon campaign, initiated by Thammasat University law professors, should be revived for those who are no fans of Mr Samak and his government but who oppose the PAD’s methods and intentions. Other campaigns to give voice to the columns of people sandwiched between the PAD and the Samak government should also be considered and tried.
As fledging and fragile as it is, Thailand’s democratic system is still in operation. It staged a general election just eight months ago. The voices of people who spoke at the polling booths then should still be respected. Moreover, these voices are now reinforced by a restoration of institutional checks and balances after the coup. Even the PAD leaders have not doubted the current integrity of the independent agencies such as the Election Commission, National Counter Corruption Commission and Constitution Court. Nor has anyone disputed the rulings of the Supreme Court and Criminal Court, which have taken Mr Thaksin to task and issued a conviction and three-year jail sentence on his wife. Mr Thaksin and his wife even had to flee from the law by their exile in England. This judicial process and its several critical verdicts to come on Mr Samak’s conflicts of interest and the ruling People Power party’s dissolution, among other cases involving government officials, should be respected and allowed to run their course.
But the PAD knows that in the end the majority of the electorate is likely to opt for a party with Thai Rak Thai and PPP’s winning policy platform. As a result, it has nakedly revealed its hand. The PAD wants to bring Thai politics back to a bygone era of appointed representatives, of keeping Mr Thaksin, Mr Samak, Thai Rak Thai and PPP out of power for good through its own seizure of power.
The forces in cahoots with the PAD are now conspicuous. The Democrat party, which has lost the elections time and again and is still unable and unwilling to focus on appealing policies, has never categorically rejected the PAD methods and objectives. Leading Democrats have visited the PAD at Government House, and a Democrat MP has been a PAD organiser from the outset.
Democrat party canvassers and their networks are reportedly involved in the closure of Phuket and Krabi airports. If this is untrue, it is imperative on the Democrats’ leadership to categorically deny their members’ handiwork in the unrest in the southern provinces, their electoral stronghold.
Mr Samak now faces dire choices. The PAD leaders have staked their movement exclusively on Mr Samak’s resignation. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Mr Samak cannot crack down on the illegal occupants of Government House for fear of what is perceived as his past sins and the potential for a broad-based confrontation and violence. But allowing the PAD’s rampage to settle in makes the prime minister look lame duck and ineffectual.
The bicameral legislative meeting yesterday was a good way forward but unlikely to resolve the crisis. As Mr Samak’s position becomes more untenable, his resignation and the PAD’s blackmailed success would be an event of infamy in Thai political annals, a huge setback for Thai democracy. Even those who abhor Mr Samak but who want to see Thailand’s longer-term political maturation would have to root for him to weather this round of PAD-instigated maelstrom.