Thai democracy can’t flourish if it continues to get uprooted

By Pravit Rojanaphruk

In some Asian cultures, time is traditionally cyclical, not linear. Time in Thailand, however, appears to be trapped in a vicious cycle without a beginning or end. This cycle usually starts with a military coup, followed by the installation of a military regime, a new charter, an elected government, a political crisis, then another military coup and another military regime. It’s as if coup-makers are avatars �X they never die, but keep reincarnating into another group of coup-makers.

The 2006 coup led to an optimistic drafting of the 2007 charter, which also managed to get people’s blessings via a referendum. Yet this so-called people’s charter ended up being unceremoniously ditched by the 2014 coup-makers.

Many have started doubting if there’s such a thing as democratic progress in the Kingdom, as 82 years have passed since the 1932 revolt ended absolute monarchy and yet the powers that be have not been able to come up with a genuine social contract that can bind us all.

The 13 coups and 19 constitutions through the eight decades of Thai parliamentary democracy is testimony to the fact that the country does not have a ��highest law,�� as one constitution after another keeps being trashed and rewritten.

Still, some remain disturbingly optimistic that the current point in the cycle of Thai politics could lead to a lasting constitution. It is as if they choose to forget that we have all been through this several times and that there’s no guarantee that it will, this time around, bring about a different result.

They also seem to forget that people gave up their lives in May 1992 fighting for the charter to stipulate that only elected MPs be allowed to become prime ministers, now that the new junta-sponsored charter may allow a non-MP become prime minister.

On the other end of the spectrum, some people �X tired of this vicious cycle �X have abandoned any pretence of wanting to support a democratic system. Now these people are saying that democracy seems to be unsuitable for Thailand as most of the less educated, poor people are just not critical or independent enough to be accorded the right to vote. They are also calling on the junta leader to sit in the prime minister’s seat for several more years.

Clearly this group lacks the patience necessary to nurture a democratic system, and are more than ready to call for another military intervention every time there is a political crisis – be it for real or imagined cases of corruption and abuse of power.

Democracy cannot take root if we kept uprooting it. The tree that is democracy may be far from perfect, but it needs time to be nurtured. Democracy is the only system that allows for people to be counted, instead of being taken for granted by dictators in their ��happy�� televised speeches.

Thailand will be able to escape the cyclical notion of political time if it learns from its past mistakes and musters enough perseverance to allow a democratic system to deal with crisis instead of letting the military intervene.

Though some may accept this never-ending cycle of elected government and military regime, they should realize that Thailand is still far from being at peace, equal and free.