The Tragedy of Politics in Thailand: No One is Smarter Than the Cart

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by Marque A Rome

Once a woman entered Walmart in the United Snakes, going straight to where shopping carts were kept, slotted each inside another. Such cart queues are not uncommonly sticky, so, when she couldn’t untangle one for use, she called a staff-member and asked his aid. He promptly pulled forth the same she had worked unsuccessfully to free, looked at her askance, and sneered, “If you wanna go shopping here ya gotta be smarter than the cart!” then strode smartly away.

Humiliated, the woman complained to management, and his employment was terminated.

This fellow lacked, beyond question, diplomatic skills so necessary to Walmart serfs — but he had a point. The plain fact is that, to be effective, any tool requires the user is smarter than it. Otherwise he’ll be baffled.

Readers may be thinking, “Here he is merely stating the obvious,” and so I am, preparatory, however, to posing the following question about democratic government, which, after all, is just another sort of tool: “With people insufficiently educated ever to understand the democratic political process, what good can come of carrying it out?”

‘Democracy’ is a word seemingly ubiquitous among Thai political activists covering all parts of the political spectrum, right to left. It is invoked at every turn by those competing fiercely for power in Bangkok since last October and used to justify competing or contradictory policies.

Yet, in word and deed, plainly neither those using it nor those in whose ears it rings are ready for democracy.

The actions of the ruling Pheu Thai Party when Parliament still was in session displayed little respect for democratic norms. Debate was cut short in defiance of House rules whenever the Opposition was in danger striking home with a point. The bill that burst the dike and brought millions into the streets of Bangkok in protest — a bill that traduced justice and the justice system by pardoning all politicans for wrong-doing between 2006 and 2013 — was passed at 4.00 AM, when most members were asleep.

The Democrat Party opposition and their allies in the so-called People’s Democratic Reform Committee are no better. They sneer at elections, shout down opponents and vehemently refuse any exchange of views. They won’t let their own people hear the other side of the story.

Violence characterises both sides, with politically motivated terror bombings daily, and not only in Bangkok. Yesterday, four were reported in Chiang Mai, one of which seriously injured four persons at a PTT filling station.

That’s indiscriminate terror.

These are hardly acts or intellectual positions characteristically “democratic”.

The problem, as I see it, is simply the democratic process Thailand’s belligerents avowedly love requires intellectual processes rather more advanced than they employ — and that leads to the problem of education.

Writing in the mass distribution weekly Matichon Sud Sapda (The People’s Thinking Weekend edition) last summer, a columnist using the pen-name ‘Dok Paka’ criticised the nation’s ONET educational achievement tests, given to Thai students yearly. “In France similar tests are given,” she observed. “But on their tests they ask students such questions as, ‘Were France not to have democracy, what sort of system should it have and what would would life be like under that system?’

“In Thailand, students are asked, ‘Why do European and other caucasian tourists in Thailand like coconut curry so much?'”

“The problem is not merely one of stupid questions. People who make ONET tests here cannot think of such questions as that on the French test. History here is taught only in a most shallow way, owing to the political ramifications were it taught otherwise. Thai students thus cannot answer questions like that given their French counterparts; not only that — neither can their professors. Thai education affords no inkling even that such questions exist.”

Dok Paka is right. Thais are taught to reverence received wisdom, not to become wise themselves or to arrive at personal understanding of events. One often sees, for example, in reference to politics, the statement that, “Thailand has had democratic government since 1932.”

In that year, a group of military officers toppled the absolute monarchy in a coup d’ etat. It’s true, they wrote up a constitution, but it and its many successors have been set aside with each coup. Generals ruled the country, with a few brief interruptions, from 1932 till 1988. In August of that year, the general who filled the position of prime minister, Prem Tinsulanonda, retired, insisting when he did that the next prime minister be elected not appointed.

Since then, Thai politics have been unstable, with two coups and many protests.

The constitution of 1997, called ‘the People’s Constitution’, specifically outlawed coups; but that didn’t keep the generals from mounting one against Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 and having a new constitution drafted, the latter approved in referrendum by a majority of 59.3 percent.

It is this constitution that Thaksin and his sister Yingluck’s Pheu Thai Party tried to amend out of existence; the same that the Democrats and their erstwhile secretary, Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the PDRC protesters, want to set aside in favour of rule by an appointed ‘People’s Council’.

Were Thailand truly a democracy, as the schools teach, one side or the other would already have achieved its goal. But the military still is top dog in politics, as both sides are keenly aware, so the constitution stands and we have a defanged ‘caretaker’ government led by Yingluck while protesters continue carping from Lumpini Park.

As for the legal system, any who know Thai law must have noticed the bulk of the country’s corpus juris was promulgated by military governments.

So, Thailand is not a democracy — never has been — though the people imagine it is. Thus it must come as no surprise people so deluded also imagine recourse to violence, brainwashing, black shirt tactics and ignorance of parliamentary procedures are somehow ‘democratic’.

Constitutions, laws, political philosophy — these are but so many dead letters fixed on a page in the absence of understanding, and the two sides convulsing Thailand clearly have none. Moreover, no white knight I know of waits in the wings with sufficient understanding to bring about an amicable, democratic conclusion to their warring.

No one, it seems, is “smarter than the cart,” and that’s the real tragedy of the circumstances, because until people wise-up there will be no end of fighting.

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