OPINION: Love democracy? Then scold the politicians

Tulsathit Taptim

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Love democracy? That’s a rhetorical question that Prayut, or Abhisit, or Pheu Thai cannot answer without being frowned upon. Truth is, the vicious circle can be broken, albeit only with immense willpower.

The story of how parental pampering can turn a child into a murderous robber who ends up facing the death penalty is among the best-known cautionary tales in Thailand. But it’s also the one whose lesson is least heeded. Being protective towards our loved ones is human nature, so our wise ancestors smartly warned us about the dangers of this slippery slope. Protectiveness can become overbearing possessiveness, with startling and tragic results.

If you love democracy, don’t misguide it. Whip it. Reprimand it. Ground it if you have to. There’s no point lambasting its enemies, because that will only lead to the foolish pampering. If your children steal, don’t say it is all right. Don’t say there are people who do worse things out there. Chances are that if you accept the little thief, he or she will grow up to be a robber or even murderer, and end up in jail or killed by another person.

It’s easy to denounce democracy’s enemies. But that is a waste of time, since you are dealing with something that has fully developed. Dictators limit freedom of expression, rule by summary action and control citizens with a propaganda machine. Old news. Their how-to manual has “already” been written and is out of your control.

Democracy, on the other hand, is still growing. It’s that child who’s unsure whether snatching things from others is okay. The parent of that child has two choices – punish him to make sure it will never happen again, or blame everything else and send the kid the wrong message in the process.

Thai politicians are crying foul over constitutional rules adopted and people appointed by the military. Don’t make the politicians assume that the “parents” will always be on their side. If you love them, show them what went wrong on their part. Don’t tell them the others are bad, because that will automatically make them think they are good.

Being “pro-democracy” in the conventional way is not difficult, because there are always a thousand things to criticise. And it’s even easier nowadays, when anyone with a computer can find a way past a media ban or information blackout. Taking democracy to task when you are pro-democracy is hard, even if you have all the freedom in the world.

But you must, for democracy’s own good. It is a big mistake to think that the system will “correct itself”. Can a child who steals while its parent turns a blind eye correct himself? The odds are certainly stacked against him. Democracy has gone rogue in many parts of the world precisely because its “parents” have overestimated it.

Barring another “accident”, an election will be held next year in Thailand. Many of us have been led to believe that what happens after the vote is up to the military. That might be true, but criticism must not be misplaced, not only because what the military plans to do will be largely out of our control, but also because overlooking the misdeeds of politicians will lead to more of the same, or worse.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s four bombshell questions are attracting both praise and contempt. It’s not hard to understand why. Maybe they are indeed legitimate questions, but asked by the wrong man. Many people think a coup leader who is heading a military-installed government has no business asking whether the post-election administration will have integrity, what to do if it doesn’t, whether the ballot box alone can serve the public interest, and whether politicians who caused the country “trouble” should be allowed to return to politics.

The best way to answer these questions is to take Prayut out of the equation. Certainly, we all want an elected government with integrity, and we don’t want politicians who serve their own interests. The bottom line is that whether Thailand can achieve this, and how, is up to us, not up to him.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, himself a target of criticism both from his “democratic” opponents and those against old-fashioned democracy, may have summed up the ambivalence when he suggested he could not accept an “outsider” as prime minister but at the same time would never work in a government that serves just individuals, not the general public. The Pheu Thai Party, ousted from power by Prayut in 2014, sees that as nothing more than a holier-than-thou remark, but, again, Abhisit must be taken out of the equation for the statement to be truly judged.

Some people see it as a chicken-and-egg situation. After all, how can democracy prove its worth if it is not allowed to go all the way? But that’s a rhetorical question that Prayut, or Abhisit, or Pheu Thai cannot answer without being frowned upon. Truth is, the vicious circle can be broken, albeit only with immense willpower.

Loving democracy is the same as loving your baby. It’s as simple as that.