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What if the "majority" balks at 'democracy'?
Publication Date : 12-02-2014
The question remains strictly hypothetical at the moment, of course. We have perpetually lazy voters who don't care either way and who must have contributed to the low voter turn-out of the February 2 general election. Voting was incomplete in several constituencies and no results have been made official yet. But it's still a fair question, no matter how tricky it sounds.
Thai politics has been puzzling students of democracy, and February 2 has added to the great intrigue. If "majority" is what it is all about, what now? "Majority" has guided the way since the share concealment scandal of Thaksin Shinawatra. It told the country to grit its teeth and bear it then, and reasserted its authority in the first post-coup election in 2008. In 2011, it made a final say, or so it seemed, on renewed turmoil.
There are Thais who think that numbers are not that important. Transparency, checks and balances and accountability have to complete the system, they believe. However, debate on what democracy needs aside from ballot boxes has threatened to rip the country apart, so let’s stick only with the numbers, at least for a while.
Less than half of the eligible voters cast their ballots. Among those who went out to vote, many said "No" to the ruling party. The number of "No" votes is believed to be huge. It’s big enough to all but silence the moderate government supporters and make the hardliners extremely uncomfortable. The most formidable fortress of Pheu Thai - the support by the "majority" - has been penetrated.
The numbers combined to unleash a one-two blow. Thaksin’s political party is thought to have received significantly fewer votes than in the previous poll. Secondly and as importantly, the party’s strong campaign for Thais to snub the anti-government movement by going to the February 2 polls fell flat, or nearly.
The main pro-Pheu Thai argument is that it has won the election, and that should be it. The Democrats opted out of the contest out of their own free will, and while that left the competition unexcited, it remained a competition all the same. In other words, there may be women more beautiful than Miss Universe, but since they did not vie for the crown, they are not entitled to proclaiming themselves as Miss Universe.
Only Miss Universe does not have to decide whether a government should continue "buying" rice from farmers above the market prices or borrow 2 trillion baht to upgrade a railway system. It’s one thing to say Pheu Thai has won the February 2 election, but it’s another to assume Thailand wants the rice scheme to go on or allow the current crop of politicians to seek a 2-trillion-baht loan and spend it with less-than-usual parliamentary scrutiny.
That’s the problem. We might be able to proclaim Pheu Thai as the "winner", but can we say the election endorsed the rice scheme or attempts to borrow 2 billion baht? Did the poll results suggest the Amnesty Bill should be revived? Did they imply that Thais want to keep parliament out of it when the government goes about signing international treaties? Have Thais said "Yes" to more "first-car" tax rebate? Democracy is all about settling this kind of contentious policy issues, isn’t it?
Some say Thaksin is a champion of democracy; others regard him as simply someone who’s hiding behind democracy. Either way, his blanket of security may not feel that secure any longer. If you are too obsessed with "numbers", the numbers can come back to bite you one day. It’s as simple as that.
You can manipulate the "No" votes by interpreting them as pro-democracy or pro-Thaksin. After all, going to the polls or boycotting them became somewhat a proxy political war before February 2. Pheu Thai was asking Thais to vote, not necessarily for it, but for the sake of the "democratic spirit". The "No" votes were in the turn-out, which might not be too bad considering the political chaos.
But be careful how you play with the "numbers". Counting the "No" votes as pro-democracy and thus pro-Thaksin can bring about an eerie deja vu. In 2001, four Constitution Court judges did not think their court should rule on Thaksin’s share concealment case. Of the remaining eleven, seven found him guilty and four acquitted him. Instead of being ruled guilty with four "abstentions", he was let off the hook thanks to the four "abstentions" being combined with the four "Not Guilty" judges to form a narrow 8-7 majority. The rest is history.
The clock is ticking. There are rules on time frames, deadlines and so on for the setting up of a new government after a general election. Things will get really complicated if the hypothetical question becomes solid. In that event, if you think the "winner" can go on and form a new administration, you may be an optimist. If you think such a new administration can rule in a business-as-usual manner, you are probably delusional. Democracy is a funny monkey, isn’t it?