General Prayuth Chan-ocha was elected by Thailand’s parliament on Wednesday to continue serving as prime minister. Five years after he took power by launching a coup against a democratically elected government, Prayuth was confirmed by a mostly democratically elected parliament.
It did not hurt Prayuth’s chances that he had 250 appointed members of the senate voting in his favor. The senators were all appointed by the junta, under provisions in the constitution that the junta had drafted, and voted unanimously as a bloc to make Prayuth the prime minister.
It is little wonder then that Thais are up in arms about the whole affair. Many have taken to social media with the hashtag #RIPThailand and #PrayforThailand. Others posting on social media have accused the military of unfair play and setting back Thai democracy.
An inconvenient truth
One fact that many commentators are skirting or ignoring altogether is that even if all 250 members of the senate did not take part in the selection process, Prayut would still be confirmed as prime minister. He won the vote on Wednesday by a margin of 500 to 244. Take away 250 seats and he would still win.
Of course, this does not consider the political wrangling that may have happened had the senate not been in play, but the inconvenient truth is that a significant portion of the Thai populace supports both the general and the military.
In the March election, the military aligned Palang Pracharath party won the popular vote with 8.4 million votes. The constitutional referendum held by the military which enshrined its rule and paved way for the appointed senate won by over a million votes in 2016.
Prayuth scores favorably in popularity polls run by both civilians and the military even when matched against his political opponents.
The cancer in Thai democracy
But the cancer in Thai democracy is not the military, it never has been. The military has always been a blunt instrument, determined to bend the political process to its ideas of tradition, its appetite for power and its cozy relationship with the conservative elements in Thai society.
The military and the significant number of people who support them cannot be called democratic cancer because they do not support the process to begin with.
They might hold an election here or there to appease the populace and Thailand’s international allies but there is no real belief in democracy, polls are just an inconvenience needed to appease the unwashed masses.
The real cancer within the system are the small political parties willing to strike a deal with whatever side wins the general election.
The poorly named Democrat Party, the Bhumjai Thai Party, and not to mention the plethora of small parties that joined the junta yesterday in voting for Prayuth would undoubtedly have swung the other way and sided with the opposition had the senate not been in play. They have switched sides before and often and will do it again.
We have written about the Democrat party before and not much more needs to be said. Perhaps the reason they constantly need to profess their allegiance to Democracy is because they have so often betrayed the process.
As for the other parties, most are nothing more than fiefdoms run by the same families for decades, focused only on getting and retaining power. There is no democratic ideal here, there never was even the pretense. There are no party platforms, no manifesto, just a quick copy and paste of what is most popular and what will get them the most number of seats so they can side with the biggest party.
Thai democracy will never be healthy until real policy-based voting occurs in the countryside rather than clientelism.
As of right now, unfortunately, there is too much money and too much power at stake for politicians to loosen their stranglehold on power. There is too much to lose for politicians to promote real political education that would see a paradigm shift in the political process.