After all these years, Thaksin should have known better

After all these years, Thaksin should have known better

It's up to democracy to prove itself. Having to do that is probably what differentiates the system from, say, dictatorship. The latter relies on perhaps one or two men, whereas a whole lot more need to function properly for democracy to really work. Which is why the latest whining from afar by Thaksin Shinawatra about anti-democracy plots in Thailand continues to ring hollow.

In his latest interview from self-imposed exile, Thaksin once again blamed everyone and everything but himself. What he left out was the stark truth that his own supposed democratic rule was badly flawed, with top-level corruption threatening to run out of control, checks and balances virtually non-existent and Parliament only used to rubber-stamp irregularities and worse.

The interview prompted the military-installed Thai government to revoke his diplomatic passport, a move that triggered a swift show of defiance from pro-Thaksin ex-foreign minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul. But whether or not Thaksin deserves the travel document is not the point here.

After all these years, Thaksin still doesn't seem to get it. He can lambaste "undemocratic elements" all he wants, but the truth remains that, when it comes to whether democracy is the way to go for Thailand, the onus is not on his rivals. It's people like him, his sisters, his relatives and other recruits to their political party - as well as those to whom they assign top bureaucratic jobs - who need to show that democracy is the best there is and irreplaceable.

It's not enough to point at the flaws of other systems and proclaim democracy as the lesser demon, not least because the other systems couldn't care less. This "Look who's worse" attitude has also contributed to a vicious cycle in Thailand, with an increasingly lower benchmark for political responsibility and accountability. Democracy needs to prove itself as solidly good, not "less bad" than the others, and Thaksin & Co have failed in this regard. It's such a pity, considering that their enormous wealth should have provided them immunity from fresh political temptations. If they had adhered to the right principles, they could have helped Thai democracy to flourish.

If what we saw was their best, it was far from good enough. Graft, nepotism, and the frequency with which the phrases "Parliamentary majority" and "election mandate" were used to justify what was otherwise wrong, meant their "democracy" never had a chance to take root. Yes, there were policies that seemed to please a lot of people. But dictators can and do implement similar policies.

What dictatorship can't do is allow genuine checks and balances that can lead to the ousting of corrupt rulers, no matter how powerful or popular they are. Dictators can't afford a free press. They thrive on propaganda. And when push comes to shove, they simply force their policies on the people.

In other words, dictators don't need to prove their worth. Democracy, meanwhile, needs to constantly prove itself. That comes with the territory if you are an "ideal". You can't say it's unfair, because it's the only way democracy can stand head and shoulders above others.

It's a huge misconception to brand every anti-Thaksin element "undemocratic". Judging from his interview in Seoul, the man is still actively propagating this mistaken idea. This is part of the reason why he is often accused of continuing to smear his own motherland. It should have occurred to him that at least some of those who abhor the "Thaksin system" are also in favour of democracy, only a different type of democracy from that which he espouses.

What is happening in Thailand presents everyone with a challenge. But that challenge is biggest for those who advocate democracy, because it doesn't stop at exposing rival systems as flawed, or worse. If dictatorship fails, it doesn't necessarily mean they are proven right. The chances of a dictatorship failing are always high. The measure of democracy's worth is, therefore, not the failures of its enemies, but its ability to stand nobly on its own.

Nobility or integrity is what is supposed to distinguish democracy. Without it, democracy is just another system that can be easily exploited, that can be used to advance or protect vested interests, and that presents numerous loopholes for corruption.

Thaksin, of all people, should be aware of this. Nobody said democracy was easy, as democratic governance engages a lot more people than do other doctrines. However, the "Champion of Democracy", as he likes to be called, doesn't have another choice. If he keeps lambasting his "undemocratic" enemies, he's badly mistaken.

The blame game is a cheap way out and can only go so far. Thaksin must accommodate democracy, and not try to make it accommodate him. What he claims to advocate doesn't require attacking the enemy in order to thrive. Thaksin may find this hard to believe, but democracy can only be destroyed when its own flaws are left unaddressed. Having practised meditation (a pursuit he has been eager to publicise), he should know the ultimate truth that democracy's abiding virtue lies in the capacity to stand tall despite all the complexities presented by its own nature.

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