Thais must agree democracy's worth saving

Thais must agree democracy's worth saving
An anti-government protester wearing a chain full of amulets gestures as he joins a march during a rally at a major business district in Bangkok December 20, 2013.

EDITORIAL

Thailand is sliding into anarchy, which from experience has meant intervention.

Following a spell of military rule, elections will be called or, more likely, forced on the caretakers. A government could also be appointed via some constitutional artifice.

What follows has not varied much - dissatisfaction over blatant or exaggerated misrule brings the establishment class and the masses into open conflict again, to be resolved temporarily by applying a variation of the old formula.

The polarisation in the stand-off between the Puea Thai government and the Democrat Party-inspired insurrection shows that the country is more divided than ever - but mind the attendant dangers.

Will Thailand ever get off the wearying cycle of self-flagellation? Its ASEAN partners admire the Thai insouciance and the nation's immense gifts, but are dismayed the country is being torn apart by feudal notions of class distinction, demonstrated in an inability to acknowledge the existence and interests of the other.

The worry is that a Thailand that continues on this course would destroy itself, with ASEAN the loser. If the election called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra does not produce an outcome that is accepted by all Thais, are there alternatives?

Indefinite military rule is anathema to most Thais as it is unnatural, unwanted, and its past record has not been exemplary.

A grand coalition, or a government of national unity, is an idea that could be explored, however far-fetched it may sound. But Thailand's party political tradition is not strong, and it lacks enough leaders of vision and unquestioned devotion to the idea of equal opportunity.

As for rule by the unelected, it could never hold for lack of majority consent. Would a return to an absolute monarchy be acceptable, as the royal house commands respect while past civilian and military choices have mostly been disappointing? But after the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej is over, how the Thais would regard such a scenario is unknown.

There is another unspeakable, remote possibility - civil war that could lead to a break-up of the kingdom.

The present deadlock is different in that there is little room for compromise. The elites insist on a right to rule, whichever form it takes.

The pro-government red shirts, who have felt patronised and put upon, have spoken the first murmurs about secession if a re-elected Puea Thai party were cast aside, or an unelected claque were foisted on them.

If the election is disrupted or put off, or results that favour the incumbents are voided, Thailand will have entered a fateful phase.

May it never happen. But Thais of all beliefs and classes need to concede it is the idea of democracy they are fighting for, not one another.


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