Don't be tools and fools of the elites
Published: 1 Dec 2013 at 00.00Newspaper section: News
If one blindly wears the hat of moral goodness, Suthep Thaugsuban would turn to Chumpol Julasai and say, ''Wow, we've only started a few weeks, and had them fooled already.''
If one blindly wears the hat of democracy, Thaksin Shinawatra would turn to his accountant and ask, ''Wow, he's a good tool - how much are we paying this guy?''
If someone chants "people power", ask that person, "Do you mean the 15 million who voted for Pheu Thai or the 11 million who voted Democrat?"
Such points are often missed because we humans have a self-serving need to believe we are the good guys, or are on the side of what we believe is righteous. But the problem is that we tend to see the world through our own bias and prejudice, and goodness and righteousness are corruptible.
Conflicts are not motivated by moral goodness or democracy. Those values are created by men and therefore they can and will be manipulated by men in order to achieve power.
Conflicts are but power struggles where the winner gets to write history and call himself morally good and democratically legitimate. At the end of the day, it is the elites, the rich and powerful, who will always win. This is because victory requires money and power.
And even if the poor and downtrodden somehow win, their victory will turn them into the rich and powerful who rule over the rest. Look at any peasant or communist revolution in history and the lesson is clear_ power corrupts.
The origins of the Thai political conflict go much farther back than the 2006 military coup d'etat that ousted Thaksin. It's a power struggle over who will rule over the Thai nation five, 10 or more years from now.
One side has invested heavily in a candidate. The other side is doing everything it can to prevent the rise of said candidate, though at the moment they hardly have an alternative.
Suthep & Co are not fighting against democracy. They are fighting against the future monopolisation of power by Thaksin & Co. However, if democracy gets in the way, Suthep & Co won't mind stomping it into the ground. (You, dear readers, may interpret the "Co" that comes after Suthep and Thaksin however you like.)
The ordinary protesters in the streets may not intend to stomp on democracy, but many would turn a blind eye and cite moral goodness before democracy.
Thaksin & Co hold the advantage of being democratically elected, especially because those blindly wearing the democracy hat are willing to ignore minority rights and good governance.
Looking into the future, the Thaksin & Co monopoly may be legitimised by democratic elections, but at the same time it's likely that political power would be expressed by near authoritarianism. This assessment is based on Thaksin's rule when he was in power during the early 2000s.
It might be similar to Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore. Thailand will be prosperous, but at the price of individual freedoms.
Or it might be similar to Hun Sen's Cambodia _ a huge gap between the elites and the poor, with a small and frustrated middle class, while good governance, human rights and individual freedoms are scarce.
The Thaksin & Co monopoly might fall somewhere in between, but likely a lot closer to Cambodia than Singapore. This again is an assessment based on his years as prime minister _ big on populism, low on real reform; some good policies, but too many human rights abuses and infringements on freedom.
But back to Suthep & Co, who aim to temporarily suspend democracy to remove Thaksin & Co for good, and then bring back the sort of democracy that makes sure Suthep & Co will win for good. Then they may also claim democratic legitimacy. It would still be the same system, just with a different set of ruling elites.
No matter who rules, Thailand will not be much different from what it has always been. This is because the country's historical evolution has never been addressed at the national level, nor have cultural values or the education system, which everyone says is in dire need of reform but no one is willing to make a go of it.
The protests on the streets are a strategy of counter-attack, to put on a show of force and push back the tide of Thaksin & Co, while behind the scenes others scramble to find a viable alternative. Mr Suthep may be many things but he's not a stupid man. He would not have relinquished his MP status to go nuts on the streets if he didn't have the right backups.
In this power struggle, the ordinary people must keep the balance of power between Suthep & Co and Thaksin & Co, and not let one or the other win outright. The people must carefully nurture this fragile democracy and this morally confused society. Otherwise the two alternatives both amount to near authoritarian rule, but with democratic legitimacy.
As the two sides of elites struggle for power, the middle class must also struggle for its own power.
The same goes for the working class. It's an eternal tug of war to find the balance of power. But the problem right now is that we are all being used by the elites. It is for us to decide not to be tools and fools. Let them chant for moral goodness or democracy, but let us conduct ourselves with knowledge and wisdom.