Published on August 23, 2007
The sad truth is that there is no guarantee that this will happen any time soon. The country continues to be plagued by political turmoil that started out when the urban middle class rose up against the democratically elected but corruption-prone government led by Thaksin Shinawatra, which had and continues to have strong support from the rural masses.
It has become clear that the once-proud, freedom-loving Thai people have lost the confidence to govern themselves or solve the problems facing their democracy. The urban middle class consented to the military's staging of a coup to overthrow the Thaksin government while the rural masses remain loyal to the ousted billionaire prime minister known for his masterly exploitation of populism.
The polarisation of politics that has pitted the urban middle class and the rural masses against one another not only remains unchanged, but it appears to have intensified. The worst mistake made by the junta and the interim Surayud government, who fashion themselves as restorers of democracy, has been their utter failure to reach out to the impoverished people in the countryside by reassuring them that their concerns and needs will be taken into consideration.
It may be true that it is not easy to wean people off of the sort of populist policies introduced in a big way by Thaksin and his now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, which offered instant gratification, like the cash handouts to rural folk through village funds. This is not to mention the fact that Thaksin's tentacles of power in the provinces remain intact and continue to be lubricated with the former prime minister's enormous wealth.
The opportunity to bring about reconciliation between the anti- and pro-Thaksin camps has been missed. As a result, it would be unrealistic to expect the upcoming election tentatively scheduled for December to lead to the restoration of full democracy in this country.
The military on one side and Thaksin loyalists and their would-be collaborators on the other are already expected to try to outdo one another in influencing the outcome of the general election to their advantage. Thaksin loyalists hope for the triumphant return of their political master, while the military, fearing revenge, can be expected to do its best to prevent that from happening.
Both the urban middle class and the rural masses are being treated as little more than political pawns by the military and the old regime to be manipulated on their political chessboard.
Instead of ushering in the rebirth of genuine democracy, the general election could indeed put the military in a position to dominate national politics and thereby perpetuate its hold on power indefinitely. It remains to be seen if the middle class, which has acquiesced to military rule so far as a necessary evil, will continue to accept the military's dominant role in politics and, if so, for how much longer.
The military is supposed to work itself out of its current job of cleaning up politics and then go back to the barracks and submit itself to the next civilian government. But there is no indication that the military will do so, and people are beginning to see that the military is not exactly as selfless and incorruptible as it claims to be.
Less than two months after toppling the Thaksin government last September 19, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin dispensed lucrative, highly-paid jobs to senior military officers to serve as chairmen or directors on the boards of state enterprises. This smacked of cronyism, one of the charges made against Thaksin as well. Some top military officers are getting comfortable with the trappings of power and new found wealth and have begun to take the people's support for granted.
Sonthi himself is even considering entering politics to vie for the premiership in the upcoming election. Apparently, the military has not learned the lesson that it is easier to stage a coup than to run the country.