BANGKOK - Deep-rooted political corruption and the heavy use of corruption cases for political gain are the two main problems in the country.
The views are great but that’s only because we are getting higher on a steep and dangerous road. Thailand’s lumbering journey towards the next election is like a car ride up a mountainous path made slippery and treacherous by rain. An accident might happen at any time, and, if it does, what now looks so near will suddenly appear so far.
It must be scary to be good, mustn’t it? This is a time when anyone can make a costly error, but this is also a time when just one tiny mistake is enough to blow everything to pieces. A lot is being asked of everyone. The driver must be careful, while the passengers must be patient, although a great number of them don’t trust him that much. The onlookers should do little more than hold their breaths, because any unwise move could send the driver into panic mode and the rest could be history.
This last phase of the journey is the scariest. There are some positive developments and there are things causing alarm. The aftermath of the August 7 referendum, which endorsed the controversial charter draft, has been peaceful. Opponents of the draft have reacted respectfully so far, while the military is easing its control, some say. Some politicians have begun to visit their constituents again.
The latest move by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha was significant. He invoked Article 44 of the interim constitution to tone down measures controlling political activities. Future “national security” cases will no longer go before military courts, allowing the normal judiciary to step back in. Cynics may say he took that action because foundations for continued military control of politics had already been laid, but his move should be welcomed anyway.
Using military justice to try civilians charged with national-security offences wouldn’t bode well for a country preparing for its first post-coup election. In fact, bringing any charge related to national security always raises eyebrows, especially when the powers-that-be don’t come from an election. Prayut’s move should draw more compliments than criticism, and it’s part of the “great views” unfolding outside the window.
If only we could keep focusing on the views. Speculation has been building over how new mooted regulations will affect political parties.
Politicians, especially those in the Pheu Thai Party, whose elected government was overthrown by the 2014 coup, have condemned the entire agenda to 'reform' Thailand’s party system as totally undemocratic. The truth is that politicians themselves largely to blame for the proposed new regulations, which are purportedly intended to prevent Parliament being exploited to protect vested interests.
The moves to revamp the party system and the opposition to such ‘reform’ are not the only things that are making our steep climb fearsome. The trial of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra will enter a crucial phase soon. The verdict is expected by the end of this year. Making the ‘height’ even scarier is that Prayut has invoked good old Article 44 to facilitate asset seizures if it comes to that.
In addition, constitutional provisions will allow non-elected senators a big say in who should be the next prime minister in cases where no candidate gains enough votes in the lower house. All these potential developments could be seen as bias exercised against the Pheu Thai Party, whose status as a highly popular party can make it seem like bias exercised against democracy as a whole.
But if Thailand is to mature politically, ‘perception’ – and especially how the international community views the country – is less important than our own resolve. Some internationally unpopular measures may benefit Thailand in the long run. The country now has two main problems: Deep-rooted political corruption and the heavy use of corruption cases for political gain. These two have been feeding off each other.
Whether the measures designed to deal with them appear good or bad is not as crucial as how we use them. Implement them sincerely, and a revitalising destination looms ahead, but abuse or politicise them and a vicious circle beckons.
Whether or not Thailand is coping with the two problems the right way, the whole country is in that car inching toward the mountaintop. The onlookers will still be alive if the car crashes and burns. So they can shout out their advice, but at the end of the day, it’s what those inside the car do that matters.
Simply put, if the election is to be delayed, only Thais will truly suffer. This thinking might not satisfy everyone, especially those who view that wrong methods can only lead to wrong results. Some say we shouldn’t put the future in the hands of just one person, but this is a car ride, like it or not. What happens after we reach the peak is an entirely different story.