PM’s role as defender of democracy is a joke

PM's role as defender of democracy is a joke - Bangkok Post, July 10, 2006
...The very thought of Mr Thaksin standing up to defend democracy would send a chill down the spines of most democracy aspirants. It was bizarre, and sounded too good to be true given the man's past record which consistently shows just the opposite.
Examples abound in the past five years of the government's complete disregard for democratic principles. Take for instance press freedom. The Thai Journalists Association has compiled a long list of cases of journalists who criticised his administration and were intimidated, removed from their positions or had their bank accounts secretly investigated. Some critical dailies were denied advertising revenue because advertisers were warned not to support the newspapers.
Take a look at the outgoing Senate which was nothing but a rubber stamp for the Thaksin administration. What a disgrace! Then there are those independent organisations, such as the National Counter Corruption Commission and Election Commission, which were supposed to serve as checks-and-balances mechanisms, but were rendered dysfunctional by this government.
But most offending of all seems to be a famous remark about democracy unwittingly made by Mr Thaksin some time ago. "Democracy is not an end in itself, but just a means..."
What has been witnessed in the past five years of Mr Thaksin's premiership is not democracy in its universally-accepted sense, but "managed democracy" in which the majority rules supreme, and at their own whim, with little regard for the minority....


[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles from the early days of the Thai internet, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

PM's role as defender of democracy is a joke

Deputy-Editor-in-Chief calls discusses Thaksin's blatant disregard for press freedom and his Senate buyout

Bangkok Post
Monday, July 10, 2006

By Veera Prateepchaikul

The voice from the television set echoed across the newsroom on Thursday, June 29. It sounded so familiar but the words were not.

"If anyone wants to push the country backward by throwing away democracy, I will not allow it. I repeat, I will defend democracy with my life. Therefore, if there are any attempts to usurp democracy while I am Prime Minister... I will definitely never permit them to succeed."

"It couldn't be him." That was my initial thought when I heard the voice. But when I turned my eyes from the computer screen to the television, his familiar face came into full view which made my heart sink. It was Thaksin Shinawatra, Caretaker Prime Minister and dear leader of the Thai Rak Thai Party.

"He must be kidding!" I then thought. But a close look at his face on television revealed no clue that he was kidding. Instead, it was the stern face of a man who was not only serious but appeared to be on the warpath.

The very thought of Mr Thaksin standing up to defend democracy would send a chill down the spines of most democracy aspirants. It was bizarre, and sounded too good to be true given the man's past record which consistently shows just the opposite.

Examples abound in the past five years of the government's complete disregard for democratic principles.

Take for instance press freedom. The Thai Journalists Association has compiled a long list of cases of journalists who criticised his administration and were intimidated, removed from their positions or had their bank accounts secretly investigated. Some critical dailies were denied advertising revenue because advertisers were warned not to support the newspapers.

Take a look at the outgoing Senate which was nothing but a rubber stamp for the Thaksin administration. What a disgrace! Then there are those independent organisations, such as the National Counter Corruption Commission and Election Commission, which were supposed to serve as checks-and-balances mechanisms, but were rendered dysfunctional by this government.

But most offending of all seems to be a famous remark about democracy unwittingly made by Mr Thaksin some time ago. "Democracy is not an end in itself, but just a means..."

What has been witnessed in the past five years of Mr Thaksin's premiership is not democracy in its universally-accepted sense, but "managed democracy" in which the majority rules supreme, and at their own whim, with little regard for the minority.

Have any of us ever heard from Mr Thaksin or any of his ministers about the need to maintain "good governance", which is central to democratic rule. What we heard from one of his top advisers was "practical governance", the real meaning of which is difficult to fathom. It seems that the entire administration was too shy to even utter the words "good governance", probably because they would be unable to put it into practice. Also eluding Mr Thaksin's government was the ability to provide moral leadership. Instead, they opted for practical leadership.

Of course, there are many gullible people among us who would fall for whatever Mr Thaksin says, even if it sounds bizarre. They might even hail him as a "born-again democrat."

For democracy aspirants, Mr Thaksin's proclamation that he is a guardian of democracy is laughable. It was meant only for the gullible and Thai Rak Thai admirers. Obviously, a lot more than mere words are needed from a man who has never taken democracy seriously for us to believe he really means business.

Who knows? Perhaps Mr Thaksin, with his aggressive remarks about the mysterious charismatic individual and this talk about democracy, only intended to send a message to that rival that he is not a lame duck and is ready to fight for his own political survival. Whatever his admirers and detractors said or thought about him might have never entered his head, and perhaps he wouldn't care less if it had.

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Co Ltd.
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