Window-dressing isn't the same as democracy

Window-dressing isn't the same as democracy

If the junta really staged the coup to reform the country and strengthen democracy, it has to demonstrate the truth of those intentions with action

Ever since they launched their coup in May last year, our latest crop of junta leaders had been keen to arrange photo opportunities with foreign statesmen. Their hope was that the hugs and handshakes would demonstrate to the Thai public that the world approves of them.

But leaders from Western countries have shunned the Thai offers. Some have instead sent low-ranking officials to Bangkok, but the generals aren't interested in being pictured alongside peons.

To be fair, there has been some love shown by foreign dignitaries, but only the ones representing neighbouring states.

What Bangkok really wants is signs of acceptance from the major Western powers. After all, these were the states that complained most about the coup.

As expected, the Foreign Ministry was the agency tasked with explaining the seizure of power - or justifying it, to be precise. It was a hard sell, virtually impossible given the logic behind the situation.

In today's world we have what is called the people's mandate. In Thailand a majority of voters chose to elect rich and self-serving politicians who billed themselves as saviours of the poor.

Democracy is not perfect. It is a process rather than a destination.

But many Thais have yet to accept that democracy requires more than just ticking a box next to the name of their preferred candidate on election day.

Desperate for praise, Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn has reportedly claimed his government is enjoying greater and greater levels of approval among diplomats from overseas.

State-funded media have played up these claims. But closer examination reveals they are exaggerated. Plainly put, there is a gap between what is being reported and what Bangkok-based diplomats are actually saying to the Thai Foreign Ministry.

This is not to suggest that someone in the government is pulling strings. The discrepancy might be merely a matter of eagerness on the part of civil servants and state-funded media to please their new masters.

Indeed, the impulse to please the man in power has long been a problem among civil servants and other bureaucrats.

This survival instinct will prevail until the political system evolves a clear division of duties between them and the politicians.

Until the country reaches that point, our officials will continue to clean up the mess left behind our politicians.

We are still reeling from Tanasak's spectacular claim that "out of six billion people worldwide, 4.7 billion already support [the current government] 100 per cent". He also said 85 per cent of countries have confidence in the government's progress on its road map to democracy.

Thailand's international standing and respectability shouldn't be reduced to how many people shake our top envoy's hand. We need to let our actions speak for themselves.

If the intent of the coup was to reform the country and to strengthen democracy, we need to witness real progress now. Specious claims of global admiration accomplish nothing, and in fact are counterproductive.

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