Bangkok editor: appointed Senate fits with Thai-style democracy
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Bangkok editor: appointed Senate fits with Thai-style democracy

The Bangkok Post’s news coverage and editorial line has been mainly supportive of the coup although some op-ed columns do have some criticism.*Pichai Chuensuksawadi, who is Editor-in-Chief of Post Publishing and clearly the most influential person at the Bangkok Post, has an op-ed in today’s paper entitled “Let’s admit this is not democracy”. Key excerpts:

For decades we have been telling ourselves we are a democracy. We tell our people that elections mean we are a democracy. This is hammered home repeatedly. Consequently, we tell the world we are a democracy. But in reality, we are not. We have never been. We want it, but we don’t have it.

So where do we go from here?

Since the coup, I have heard many comments from a number of people asking whether Thais are ready for democracy and whether Thais (especially those upcountry) truly understand what it means. There have been suggestions, for example, that candidates for elected MPs should only come from the “knowledgeable and educated”. Another is that only taxpayers should be allowed to vote, or that voters should at least be given a test on what democracy means before they are allowed to vote.

These comments reinforce my view that for a start we should be honest with ourselves and admit that we are not yet a democracy. Let’s admit that we will never have a democracy like countries in the West. There’s nothing wrong with that since our history, our culture and our traditions are different.

Can we admit that we are still finding our way towards a form of democratic governance that allows the people, stakeholders, each political group and vested interests to have their space and be involved in the running of the country?

Even if it means adopting, for example, a system where all senators are appointed and seats allocated to the military and bureaucracy in which places are filled by rotation, then so be it. This does not mean that a fully appointed Senate should supersede the elected representatives of the people. This idea may run counter to the democratic principle of elected senators, but past experience has shown that the bureaucracy and the military have and will play a role in governance.

Let’s be honest — is this democratic? No, it is not. But unless we find a political structure that allows all stakeholders their space and say in governance, we will once again be back to where we were before.

BP: BP is unsure how else one can read his op-ed and not come to the come to the conclusion that Pichai is willing to accept a fully appointed Senate because this is just what will happen (in a Thai-style democracy?), as this will lead to a system where all stakeholders have a stake and say. So how much say should each stakeholder get? With elections, each person gets one vote and they can vote for the candidate and/or party they like. No voter is more important than others because they are in the military or of some social status. The share of representatives that any group gets is dependent on the number of votes they get, but in Pichai’s world we should just accept, to paraphrase Orwell, that some people are more equal than others.

In Pichai’s world, we just need to accept the Establishment can have control of the system through a fully appointed Senate. If they control a fully appointed Senate and that Senate directly and indirectly will be appointed to the “independent” organizations, then essentially they will be able to remove elected governments at will. Will this really led to democracy?

The military and those in the Establishment have dominated Thai political life for decades. Thai political culture has developed under military rule. The military has continually intervened in politics when they don’t like the result. The military have been behind the drafting of the vast majority of Thailand’s constitutions and have not allowed democracy to flourish.  Now, the Establishment will be given carte blanche to remove governments. If we didn’t have democracy before – and thus seemingly the coup was not so bad – then does Pichai really believe we will have democracy with the adoption of the fully appointed Senate or it will lead to democracy? He is advocating going back to the past when we have a fully Appointed Senate….

*Although, if you start to talk too much about certain topics and develop a reputation for it, even in a delicate way, then you may no longer find that you can write op-eds for the Bangkok Post. For example, Voranai who wrote a regular op-ed column for the Bangkok Post no longer does with his last op-ed appearing on June 22. There has been no official statement that BP can find. Voranai just states:

@RabichBrown sorry. Corporate decision. No more Voranai.

— Voranai Vanijaka (@voranai) June 29, 2014

BP: From what BP understands, this relates to the fact that Voranai is the Editor-in-Chief of GQ Magazine and the Post Publishing PCL publishes and distributes the Thai Language version of Elle. However, Voranai columns only stopped on June 22 (not even at the end of June with no June 29 column), and Voranai has been the Editor-in-Chief for a number of months (at least since January – see here). So was Voranai suddenly a major corporate threat to Post Publishing? Or…